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What is California’s New Freedom to Walk Act?

Table of Contents

Sacramento Crosswalk
By Ashley Amerio

The Freedom to Walk Act, also known as Assembly Bill 2147, is a new law that was recently signed by California Governor Gavin Newsom and went into effect on January 1, 2023. This law has been designed to protect the rights of pedestrians and ensure that they can safely cross the street without the fear of being ticketed. The Freedom to Walk Act states that a peace officer shall not stop a pedestrian for a jaywalking violation unless a reasonably careful person would realize there is an immediate danger of a collision with a moving vehicle.

This bill, introduced by Assemblymember Phil Ting, legalizes safe street crossings by
redefining when an officer can stop and cite a pedestrian for jaywalking. This new law will not only decriminalize safe, commonsense street crossing but also remove a pretext for over-policing that has disproportionately hurt Black and Latinx Californians. This bill will recognize the rights of pedestrians to fair and equitable use of our public roadways and also end a traffic enforcement practice that places an undue financial burden on low-income residents through fines, fees, and penalties without increasing safety. 

Does California AB 2147 Completely Decriminalize Jaywalking?

While this bill does a lot to help protect pedestrians from citations and fines when crossing the street outside of a crosswalk or against a traffic light, the situation must meet certain criteria to ensure a police officer does not issue a citation.

Assemblymember Ting told LAist.com “It’s still technically illegal to cross the street in the middle of the street, but we’re directing law enforcement not to cite people, unless there’s an immediate hazard.”

So, while this bill precludes officers from issuing citations to pedestrians safely crossing the street, officers may still issue tickets for jaywalking when it is unsafe, for example, when there is an immediate risk of a collision with a vehicle. This is why pedestrians must still exercise caution for their safety as well as drives for the safety of pedestrians.

History of Jaywalking Laws

Jaywalking laws in California were created in the early 20th century as a way to regulate pedestrian traffic and reduce accidents on the streets. The first jaywalking laws in California were implemented in the 1920s, when automobiles became more common and the number of pedestrian accidents began to rise. The laws were intended to prevent pedestrians from crossing streets in a reckless or negligent manner and to encourage them to use designated crosswalks. The laws have been enforced by law enforcement agencies and have been enforced with fines as punishment.

Automotive Industry Influence

The automotive industry played a significant role in the shift towards increased regulation of pedestrian behavior and the rise of jaywalking laws in the early 20th century. The industry’s rapid growth led to a significant increase in the number of cars on the road, which in turn led to a rise in pedestrian accidents. This led to public pressure for something to be done about pedestrian safety, and the automotive industry found itself in a position where it needed to respond to this pressure.

One way the automotive industry responded was by advocating for the construction of more roads and highways, which would allow cars to move more freely and efficiently, but also made it more difficult for pedestrians to walk safely. The industry also pushed for urban and suburban sprawl, which led to the creation of sprawling low-density communities where walking was not a viable mode of transportation.

The industry also, through its lobbying efforts, influenced the laws and regulations related to pedestrian safety, often pushing for laws that placed more responsibility on pedestrians, such as jaywalking laws, rather than on drivers or on the design of cars or roads. Additionally, prior to the 1960s, cars were not designed with pedestrian safety in mind, and the engineering of roads did not take into account the safety of pedestrians either. The focus was on the efficiency of the cars, not the safety of the people outside of the cars.

It’s worth noting that over time, the automotive industry has recognized the importance of pedestrian safety and has made efforts to improve the safety features of cars, and also become involved in pedestrian safety campaigns.

Impact on Pedestrian Related Accidents

Since this law could potentially increase the amount of pedestrians “illegally” crossing roads, it’s natural to think that this could cause an increase in the amount of pedestrian related accidents. According to the California Office of Traffic Safety, pedestrian fatality rate has grown to nearly 25% higher than the national average in recent years, stating “No state has more pedestrian deaths on its roadways than California.”

This is why it is essential for drivers and pedestrians to work together to protect themselves and those around them.

Safety Tips For Pedestrians

  • Make yourself visible: wear bright colored clothes and carry a flashlight if you are walking at night.
  • Avoid dangerous behaviors: always walk on the sidewalk (no jaywalking), stay sober and make eye contact with drivers – don’t assume the driver can see you.
  • Stay off your phones, talking and especially texting distracts you from paying attention to your surroundings.
  • Look before you step: cross streets at marked crosswalks/intersections, obey traffic signals and watch for turning vehicles.
  • Look left-right-left before crossing a street.

Safety Tips For Drivers

  • Don’t speed, follow the speed limit and never use your phone; always be cautious of your surroundings.
  • Never drive under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.
  • Look out for pedestrians, especially in hard-to-see conditions such as at night or in bad weather.
  • Pedestrians have the right of way at any crosswalk or intersection, so yield and be prepared to stop.
  • Stop at the crosswalk stop line to give drivers in other lanes an opportunity to see and yield to pedestrians too.
  • Be cautious when backing up – pedestrians, especially young children, can move across your path.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, Assembly Bill 2147, also known as the Freedom to Walk Act, which went into effect on January 1, 2023, is a significant step forward in protecting the rights of pedestrians in California. This bill legalizes safe street crossings by redefining when an officer can stop and cite a pedestrian for jaywalking. It decriminalizes safe, commonsense street crossing, when traffic permits, whether or not a pedestrian is within a marked/unmarked crosswalk. This bill will remove a pretext for over-policing that has disproportionately hurt Black and Latinx Californians and end a traffic enforcement practice that places an undue financial burden on low-income residents through fines, fees, and penalties without increasing safety.

However, it’s important to note that while this bill precludes officers from issuing citations to pedestrians safely crossing the street, officers may still issue tickets for jaywalking when it is unsafe, for example, when there is an immediate risk of a collision with a vehicle. This is why it is important for pedestrians to always exercise caution for their safety as well as for the safety of drivers.

At Ashley Injury Lawyers, we are committed to helping those who have been injured in pedestrian accidents. If you or a loved one has been injured in a pedestrian accident, please contact us for a free consultation to discuss your legal options online or by calling (916) 419-1111. We have the knowledge and experience to help you navigate the legal system and obtain the compensation you deserve.

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