Modified: January 6, 2023

What Impact Could Jaywalking Decriminalized Reforms in California Have?

The impact is that pedestrians in California no longer risk penalties unless the police believe it’s not safe. The right says that Governor Gavin Newsom is on his way to creating a dystopian California by adding one more bill to his name. But in the single-party supermajority Golden State, as of January 1, 2023, there will be no fines or arrests for jaywalking. Let’s explore the details of the new law with Ehline Law and our personal injury attorneys in Los Angeles, CA.

Jaywalking Is Now Legal in California Unless There Is an Immediate Danger

California had one of the strictest jaywalking laws in the country that could lead to arrests and fines of up to $200. However, with the recent Assembly Bill 2147, also referred to “Freedom to Walk” Act, the state is now decriminalizing jaywalking, with many believing it could lead to legal concerns in the future.

The new law was the second attempt to change how California views jaywalking after the previous bill would unintentionally reduce pedestrian safety.

AB-2147 requires pedestrians to use sound judgment when crossing the street, allowing them more freedom without worrying about fines or getting arrested. Under the legislation, police officers cannot stop or arrest a pedestrian for jaywalking unless a reasonably careful person believes there is an immediate danger to doing so.

For example, if there are no incoming cars in the street and it is safe to jaywalk, the pedestrian can cross the street. However, if a moving vehicle poses a threat of an accident, a police officer has all the right, under AB-2147, to stop the pedestrian.

According to Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), jaywalking is still technically illegal in the state. Still, the bill is directing law enforcement officers not to cite people unless there is an immediate danger. The new legislation protects citizens from unnecessary citations for crossing the street or going against a traffic light.

Advocates Believe It May Increase Pedestrian Safety

Local pedestrian advocacy group believes that the jaywalking reforms will allow more people to enjoy walking the streets. It could encourage people to leave their cars behind at home and walk for health and environmental reasons. With fewer cars on the road, advocates believe there will be fewer pedestrian accidents.

However, that is all wishful thinking. Those who want to use vehicles would still do so. If you want to reduce traffic on the road, hike up gas prices!

Can Jaywalking Reforms Reduce Pedestrian Fatalities in California?

Some states have taken up jaywalking reforms, but so far, there is not much data available to suggest any measurable effect. For example, Kansas City has not reported pedestrian fatalities since it repealed its criminal jaywalking laws. On the other hand, Nevada saw an increase in pedestrian deaths which went up to 85 in 2021 (82 in 2020).

Officials are giving a five-year evaluation period to assess whether the bill helps reduce pedestrian accidents or leads to an increase in them. During the five years, it would also be clear whether AB-2147 actually decriminalizes jaywalking.

Will the New Law Ab-2147 Help Prevent Racial Profiling?

Although many quickly argue that jaywalking laws protect pedestrians, it is crucial to understand that the previous law greatly limited pedestrian movement and was set in stone to protect drivers from liability.

The need for AB-2147 arose after many communities of color in California raised their voice against unnecessary confrontations with law enforcement officers. Officers would stop and fine people from different ethnic backgrounds, unfairly targeting minorities and their children.

For example, Black people make up about 9% of the Los Angeles population but receive nearly one-third of all jaywalking tickets. Such a significant difference suggests that there is racial profiling in Los Angeles. When jaywalking laws target a particular group of people conducting a normal and necessary act under human power, it is important to reconsider how to use law enforcement resources. According to public safety experts and other safety advocates, giving out tickets for traffic infractions and making it a criminal offense should be a standard function of traffic enforcement unless there is an immediate hazard.

And when it is black and brown Angelenos primarily getting ticketed, and only certain communities cite black pedestrians, social justice advocate warriors say enough is enough. Even if it could lead to more traffic fatalities or potentially increase fatalities, appeasement of lawbreakers by not enforcing the law in these same communities is the solution to progressive California.

Executive Director of Los Angeles Walks, John Yi, believes that the new law is a step in the right direction as it would prevent unnecessary fines and consequences for communities of color who are simply trying to cross and seek equitable enforcement safely.

Will the new law decriminalize jaywalking for certain communities? As of now, it is difficult to tell whether AB-2147 will have the impact the legislatures hope to have in California.

The primary concern with the Act is what it considers “safe” jaywalking. It is essential to understand that law enforcement gets to decide what is safe for a black or Latino pedestrian. We must also consider how in recent years, the police have misused their uniform, badge, and power to carry out their brand of justice.

According to LA Times, the police have killed 991 people in Los Angeles County since 2001, and 80% of them were either Black or Latino. The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office deemed most of these killings justified, with only two officers criminally charged for killing civilians while on duty.

AB-392 Peace officers: deadly force”, a bill that tightens the definition of imminent threat a law enforcement officer must claim before using deadly force, aimed to reduce the number of fatal police encounters in California. However, even after its passing, the number of fatal police encounters remains at four every month. 

A major reason for this is that AB-392 does not require officers to consider ground facts but use their perception, and 58% of the time, police officers believed that the civilians they encountered were armed.

The takeaway here is that a few officers may carry out their brand of justice when out on duty. Perhaps, some have far sinister motives? The Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating 10% of the Antioch Police Department for alleged “crimes of moral turpitude.”

Even with the passing of AB-2147, there is still a concern about whether there will be a drop in unnecessary confrontations and harassment by law enforcement officers against minorities in California as the new law relies on officers’ judgment, similar to AB-392.

How to Increase Pedestrian Safety in California?

A surefire way to increase pedestrian safety in California is to invest in infrastructure and street safety improvements. If you analyze the data of the communities where there are many jaywalking instances, you will find that most of these regions have poor street infrastructures, such as fewer crosswalks and bike lanes. Lack of infrastructure in such areas leads to more citations.

There is also a need to audit the police department and find out the rotten apples that carry out unnecessary brutality against communities of color in the name of justice. If the police have the necessary training and motivation to protect every citizen, pedestrians may feel much safer walking around.

Jaywalking Reform Laws Could Lead to an Increase in Personal Injury Cases

Another major concern that may come to light with the AB-2147 is the rise in personal injury cases and the challenges it may present. With severe fines and consequences for jaywalking, citizens may have to think twice about crossing the road. However, once there is decriminalization, it may give a sense of freedom to the citizens who are already distracted enough by their phones. Crossing the road distracted can lead to more pedestrian deaths than before.

The same is the case for drivers on the road. Before the decriminalization of jaywalking, motor vehicles did not have to worry about pedestrians crossing the street or look out for them when driving. It may take some time for them to get used to this new bill.

Regardless of the AB-2147, it is the responsibility of pedestrians to look before crossing the road and for drivers to have their eyes on the road to prevent any accidents. However, in most accidents, that is not the case. Many drivers and pedestrians breach their duty, and with AB-2147, we may see an increase in distracted jaywalking, which could further push fatality numbers upwards.

Injured victims may pursue personal injury claims to recover compensation for the damages incurred. In such cases, how can one determine whether a jaywalker was at fault, especially with the loose boundaries drawn in the AB-2147? Attorneys may need to allocate resources to investigate the accident and gather evidence to determine liability.

Schedule a Free Consultation with Ehline Law

No matter how challenging it is to pursue a personal injury case, Ehline Law and our pedestrian personal injury attorneys have the experience and knowledge to protect your rights. If you suffered injuries in an accident in California due to another’s fault, contact us at (833) LETS-SUE for a free consultation, as you may be eligible for compensation. You can also use our online contact form for communication via email 24/7.

Top Notch American Injury Lawyer, Michael Ehline

Michael Ehline

Michael is a managing partner at the nationwide Ehline Law Firm, Personal Injury Attorneys, APLC. He’s an inactive Marine and became a lawyer in the California State Bar Law Office Study Program, later receiving his J.D. from UWLA School of Law. Michael has won some of the world’s largest motorcycle accident settlements.

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