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Jaywalking is Now Legal in California – Freedom To Walk Act

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

On January 1, 2023, California passed a new law with the goal of easing its strict jaywalking laws that have been in place for decades. The newly implemented “Freedom to Walk Act” ensures pedestrians won’t be penalized for jaywalking unless they cross the road in a “risky manner”. Thus, it allows pedestrians to cross streets outside of designated crosswalks, as long as it’s done in a safe manner.

This innovative legislation came into effect in light of criticisms that the previous law was overly severe and adversely impacted minority communities. Research has found that black and Hispanic pedestrians were ticketed for jaywalking more frequently than their white counterparts, despite similar crossing behaviors.

The enactment of the new law aims to improve pedestrian mobility, particularly in urban landscapes where crosswalks can be scarce. However, it’s essential to remember that pedestrians are still obliged to cross streets with caution. They should continue to check in both directions before crossing and give way to incoming vehicles.

What does it mean to cross the street in a risky manner in California?

In the context of the “Freedom to Walk Act” in California, crossing the street in a risky manner would typically refer to actions that increase the likelihood of accidents or pose immediate dangers to either pedestrians or drivers. Here are a few examples:

  • Crossing against traffic signals: Ignoring a “Don’t Walk” signal or stepping off the curb against a red traffic light.
  • Suddenly darting into traffic: Quickly stepping off the curb into the path of oncoming vehicles, giving them little to no time to stop or slow down.
  • Failing to yield to vehicles outside crosswalks: If a pedestrian is crossing the street outside a crosswalk, they should yield to vehicles.
  • Crossing where visibility is poor: Choosing to cross in areas where drivers can’t easily see pedestrians, such as on a curve or between parked cars.
  • Distracted walking: Crossing the street while distracted by electronic devices, impairing the pedestrian’s awareness of their surroundings.
  • Walking on the roadways: Pedestrians should avoid walking along roadways, particularly where sidewalks are provided.

While the “Freedom to Walk Act” relaxes certain aspects of pedestrian laws in California, it still emphasizes the importance of safety and due care while crossing the road.

A Summary of the Freedom to Walk Act

Below is a summary of California’s new Freedom to Walk Act:

From now until January 1, 2029:

  – Pedestrians are no longer prohibited from entering the roadway when facing a steady circular yellow or yellow arrow warning signal.

  – Pedestrians are exempted from the requirement to obey the instructions of any official traffic signal unless directed by a police or traffic officer.

  – Pedestrians can cross the road at any place, not just at crosswalks between adjacent intersections controlled by traffic control signal devices or by police officers.

  – Pedestrians aren’t required to walk close to the left-hand edge of a roadway outside of a business or residence district.

  – A pedestrian who crosses or enters a roadway when no cars are present will not be subject to a fine or criminal penalty.

  – Local authorities lose their authorization to adopt ordinances prohibiting pedestrians from crossing roadways other than crosswalks.

– The law states that an immediate hazard exists if the approaching vehicle is so near or is approaching so fast that a reasonably careful person would realize that there is a danger of collision.

– Starting from January 1, 2023, until January 1, 2029, the Department of the California Highway Patrol is required to submit an annual report to the Legislature regarding pedestrian injuries and fatalities.

– After January 1, 2029, the previous laws relating to pedestrian crossing and roadway access will be reinstated.

How will California’s new Freedom to Walk Act impact pedestrians?

California’s new “Freedom to Walk Act” will have several impacts on pedestrians:

  1. Reduced Penalties for Jaywalking: Previously, crossing the street outside of a crosswalk, often referred to as “jaywalking,” could result in a ticket. Under the new law, pedestrians will not be ticketed for jaywalking unless they are crossing in a dangerous or reckless manner.
  2. Enhanced Mobility: Pedestrians will be able to cross streets more freely, especially in urban areas where crosswalks might be far apart. This can make walking a more convenient and efficient means of transportation.
  3. Potential Reduction in Racial Disparity: The law aims to address concerns about the disproportionate enforcement of jaywalking laws against people of color. By easing jaywalking restrictions, the new law might contribute to a decrease in these disparities.
  4. Increased Responsibility for Safety: While the law gives pedestrians more freedom, it also underscores their responsibility to cross streets safely. Pedestrians must still yield to oncoming traffic and should not cross the street in a manner that poses an immediate hazard.
  5. Requirement for Annual Report on Pedestrian Safety: The new law also requires the Department of the California Highway Patrol to submit an annual report to the Legislature about pedestrian injuries and fatalities. This reporting will provide data to assess the impact of the law on pedestrian safety.

Remember, these changes are in effect until January 1, 2029, as per the law’s current provisions.

How will California’s new Freedom to Walk Act impact drivers?

California’s “Freedom to Walk Act” could also impact drivers in several ways:

  1. Increased Vigilance: With pedestrians potentially crossing roads more freely, drivers might need to be more vigilant and prepared for pedestrians crossing the street outside of designated crosswalks, especially in urban areas.
  2. Adjustment to Traffic Patterns: As pedestrians gain more freedom to cross streets, there might be changes in traffic patterns. These could include more frequent stops or slowdowns, particularly in densely populated areas where foot traffic is heavy.
  3. Ongoing Duty of Care: The new law does not relieve drivers of their duty to exercise due care for the safety of pedestrians. Drivers are still legally required to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection.
  4. Importance of Safe Driving: An increase in pedestrian crossings might underscore the importance of safe driving practices, such as reducing speed in pedestrian-heavy areas and always being ready to stop for pedestrians.
  5. Increased Understanding and Respect for Pedestrians: The new law emphasizes pedestrian rights and safety. Drivers may need to adjust their mindsets to accommodate these changes, developing a deeper understanding and respect for pedestrians and their rights.

Remember, these impacts are expected to be in effect until January 1, 2029, according to the current provisions of the law.

What should you do if you have been struck by a car as a pedestrian?

If you have been struck by a car as a pedestrian, you should:

  1. Stay Calm: It is important to stay calm and assess the situation, even though it might be difficult.
  2. Call for Help: If you’re capable, dial 911 or ask someone nearby to do so. Immediate medical attention is vital, even if you don’t think your injuries are severe. Shock can mask symptoms, and some injuries may not be immediately apparent.
  3. Remain at the Scene: If possible, remain at the scene of the accident until help arrives.
  4. Gather Evidence: If you are capable, or if someone is with you, gather evidence of the accident. This includes the driver’s information (name, contact information, driver’s license number, insurance details), vehicle details (make, model, license plate number), and details of the accident scene (location, time, weather conditions, etc.). If possible, take photos of the scene, your injuries, and any damage to the vehicle.
  5. Seek Witnesses: Identify any witnesses to the accident and get their contact information. Their testimony could be crucial if there’s a dispute about what happened.
  6. Report the Incident: Report the accident to the police and make sure an official accident report is filed. This will be important for any insurance claims or potential legal action.
  7. Get Medical Attention: Even if your injuries seem minor, it’s crucial to see a doctor. A medical professional can evaluate your condition, treat any injuries, and document them, which is vital for any ensuing legal or insurance matters.
  8. Consult with a Lawyer: If you believe the driver was at fault, it may be wise to consult with a personal injury lawyer, who can guide you through the process of seeking compensation for your injuries and any other losses related to the accident.

Please remember, your immediate priority should be your health and safety. Legal and insurance matters can be handled after you have received necessary medical care. If you or a loved one have been injured or killed by a vehicle as a pedestrian, you have the right to sue for compensation. Contact the pedestrian accident lawyers at J&Y Law Firm for a free consultation today to review your legal rights.

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.