Some rules of the road apply not to motorists but to pedestrians. "Jaywalking" refers to violating pedestrian traffic laws, most often by crossing a street illegally. While jaywalking is a low-level offense, it can draw fines in most jurisdictions.
State Laws and Jaywalking
States define jaywalking differently. Jaywalking laws, typically enacted as pedestrian regulations within a state's traffic laws, cover various behaviors.
Some states have decriminalized jaywalking. Virginia was the first to do this in 2020, followed by Nevada in 2021 and California in 2023.
California's Freedom to Walk Act prevents law enforcement from issuing jaywalking tickets unless the behavior is likely to cause an accident or cause harm to the pedestrian or motorist. This new law aims to reduce over-policing in minority communities without comprehensive street infrastructure and traffic control devices.
Local jurisdictions may enact jaywalking laws that are different from state laws. Some cities may put in place less strict practices. Examples include New York City and Minneapolis. Both cities have enacted initiatives that reduce jaywalking enforcement and instead prioritize pedestrian safety.
To understand the specific jaywalking regulations in your area, check your local traffic laws.
What Do Jaywalking Laws Prohibit?
Jaywalking laws require that pedestrians obey traffic control signals unless otherwise instructed by law enforcement. For example, crossing an intersection with a Do Not Walk signal flashing would violate jaywalking laws. This is true even if you do not see any oncoming traffic at the cross streets where you are waiting.
Jaywalking laws also dictate how pedestrians may legally cross the street when no signals are present.
Many states require that pedestrians cross only at crosswalks. This includes marked crosswalks and unmarked crosswalks. White lines usually designate marked crosswalks. An unmarked crosswalk is 10 to 15 feet wide between two adjacent intersections. Pedestrians often have the right of way at marked crosswalks and intersections.
Other jaywalking behaviors include:
- Crossing mid-block (crossing in the middle of the street instead of using designated crosswalks)
- Disregarding "No Pedestrian" signs (regulatory signs indicating pedestrians are not allowed to walk along a road or path)
- Crossing between parked cars (weaving between parked cars to cross a street)
- Crossing diagonally (cutting across lanes of traffic rather than using a crosswalk or intersection)
- Ignoring pedestrian overpasses or underpasses
Some laws allow pedestrians to cross certain streets outside a crosswalk but require them to practice due care and yield to any motor vehicles. Generally, pedestrian traffic rules require that pedestrians yield to cars any time they are outside of a crosswalk.
Many jaywalking laws forbid walking in the street when a sidewalk is available. Disregarding signs or barricades put up to guide pedestrians is also considered jaywalking.
Penalties for Jaywalking
Depending on the jurisdiction, jaywalking is either an infraction or a misdemeanor. Police officers enforce these laws by issuing jaywalking tickets to pedestrians.
The penalty for violating jaywalking laws typically includes a fine of up to $250. In many jurisdictions, fines increase with repeat jaywalking offenses.
If a jaywalking incident puts others in danger, the jaywalking pedestrian may also face extra charges, such as reckless endangerment.
If a jaywalker disrupts traffic, they may face disorderly conduct or disturbing the peace charges.
Jaywalking Accidents and Lawsuits
In lawsuits arising from injuries to a pedestrian, defendants often claim that the negligence of the pedestrian caused or at least contributed to the pedestrian accident.
A civil defense attorney may use evidence that a pedestrian plaintiff was jaywalking to prove contributory or comparative negligence. In this context, this means the plaintiff (at least partially) caused their injury. This can limit or prevent the plaintiff from recovering damages through a lawsuit.
Not only is jaywalking illegal, it can be dangerous. Jaywalking has many safety concerns, including:
- Disrupting the flow of traffic
- Impacting traffic safety and potential traffic accidents
- Causing danger to pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), motor vehicle collisions caused almost 8,000 pedestrian deaths on U.S. roads in 2021. Also, one in six car accident deaths in 2021 were pedestrian fatalities.
A pedestrian walking across a roadway in an unsuitable area puts themselves and drivers at risk. Obeying traffic control signals and being aware of your surroundings can help prevent Pedestrian injuries and deaths. Avoid wearing earbuds or headphones, and don't walk on roads not intended for pedestrian use.
Hiring a Traffic Ticket Attorney
Jaywalking citations can be costly, and you have to go to court. You may want to speak to an attorney if you get a ticket for a jaywalking offense. An experienced traffic ticket lawyer in your area can review the validity of the citation and tell you about your next steps.