In Bakersfield and throughout California, a new law has decriminalized jaywalking. This means that you will no longer be given a ticket if you are caught crossing the street outside of a crosswalk.
The “Freedom to Walk” bill, signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on September 30th, 2022, will go into effect on January 1st, 2023. It was sponsored by Assemblyman Phil Ting of San Francisco.
Under this law, jaywalking will be treated as a non-criminal offense, eliminating the possibility of being fined “unless a reasonably careful person would realize there is an immediate danger of collision with a moving vehicle or other device moving exclusively by human power.”
What Led to the New Law?
This change comes as a result of years of activism by pedestrian rights advocates, who have long argued that jaywalking laws are disproportionately enforced against people of color. In Bakersfield, for example, data showed that Black residents were far more likely to be cited for jaywalking than their white counterparts.
The new law is a victory for those who believe that criminalizing minor offenses does more harm than good. By making jaywalking a non-criminal offense, lawmakers are sending a message that people should not be punished for simply trying to get around in their communities.
“It should not be a criminal offense to safely cross the street. 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,” said Ting in a statement.
A Brief History of Jaywalking Laws
Jaywalking laws have a long and complicated history in the United States. They were first enacted in the early 20th century when the auto industry was booming, and cars became a common sight on American streets.
At the time, there were no crosswalks or other safety measures for pedestrians, so the auto industry lobbied for laws that would hold pedestrians accountable for their safety. These laws were intended to keep people from walking in the street and getting hit by cars.
Over time, jaywalking laws have been used to target and criminalize certain groups of people. Ticketing is less common in wealthier neighborhoods, while people of color and low-income residents are more likely to be targeted.
In New York and Boston, ticketing has been less common in recent years after public outcry over the racial disparities in enforcement. In Bakersfield, California, the new law will hopefully lead to fewer tickets being issued and fewer people being criminalized for simply trying to cross the street.
What the New Law Means for Pedestrians
The new law is a positive step for pedestrian rights, but it is essential to remember that it does not eliminate all risks associated with crossing the street. Pedestrians should still use caution and be aware of their surroundings when crossing the road, even if there is not a crosswalk present.
The law is also not a free pass to jaywalk in Bakersfield or anywhere else in California. If you are caught crossing the street in a dangerous manner (especially if there is a risk of immediate collision), you can still be fined or ticketed. The law simply provides some relief for those caught crossing the street outside of a crosswalk and eliminates the possibility of being criminalized for doing so.