SAN DIEGO — A California lawmaker wants to decriminalize jaywalking, making crossing the street outside an intersection legal “when safe to do so.”
Asm. Phil Ting, a San Francisco Democrat, dubbed his Assembly Bill 2147 the “Freedom to Walk Act.” His colleagues in the state’s lower chamber approved the legislation this week, passing it to the state Senate for consideration.
The bill would effectively bar police from citing pedestrians for jaywalking if the road was clear, Ting’s office said in a statement. The lawmaker says it seeks “fairness in fines” and to avoid “potentially escalating police stops.”
He also cited racial disparities in tickets for the minor offense, saying they are “disproportionately given to people of color and individuals of modest means.”
“We should be encouraging people to get out of their cars and walk more for health and environmental reasons,” Ting said in a statement. “But when expensive tickets and unnecessary confrontations with police impact only certain communities, it’s time to reconsider how we use our law enforcement resources and whether our jaywalking laws really do protect pedestrians.”
The bill is Ting’s second attempt to decriminalize jaywalking in California. This version made technical changes to address concerns that led Gov. Gavin Newsom to veto the first try. In his response to the bill, Newsom said the proposal brought forward an “important issue,” but he cited safety concerns about repealing state jaywalking laws altogether.
Instead, Ting says his new bill strictly defines when an officer is allowed to stop a pedestrian for jaywalking, which is “only when a reasonably careful person would realize there’s an immediate danger of a collision.”
In addition to his concerns about unequal enforcement, Ting said inequities in infrastructure impact jaywalking, too. Poorer neighborhoods are more likely to lack pedestrian crossing buttons and crosswalks, for example, according to a UC Berkeley study.
California has already shifted away from some elements of jaywalking laws, which date to the automobile boom of the 1930s. Until 2018, it was technically illegal to start crossing the street at a traffic light when the pedestrian countdown meter was already flashing, but that’s no longer the case.