California’s New Freedom to Walk Act
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Walk through any metro area in California, and you’ll know it’s a car’s world—or at least it was until recently.
After decades of prioritizing cars’ rights in the name of pedestrian safety, the Golden State has changed courses with the passage of the Freedom to Walk Act.
This act, which was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom in September 2022, took effect on January 1, 2023. However, many Californians are still unaware of what this new law entails and how it affects their ability to navigate the city.
Most notably, the Freedom to Walk Act reverses one of the strictest jaywalking laws in the country, but as with any major change, it also prompts a lot of questions—especially for pedestrians who’ve been injured while crossing the street. How does this new law affect injury claims? Are injury victims still eligible to pursue compensation after a pedestrian accident?
This article will answer these questions and more. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about California’s new Freedom to Walk Act, including what it means, what it doesn’t, and how it all pertains to you.
Were you hit by a vehicle while on foot? At Case Barnett Law, we understand that victims of pedestrian accidents often suffer catastrophic injuries and financial losses, and many do not recover without help. Call us at (949) 409-0055 to explore your legal options today.
The History of Jaywalking in California
Every Californian knows that if you want to cross the street, you need to find a crosswalk and wait for traffic signals to tell you when it’s safe. Failure to abide by these rules when crossing the street is considered unsafe—but is that always the case? The Freedom to Walk Act suggests that jaywalking can be done safely in certain situations and shouldn’t always be criminalized.
A Loss of Pedestrian Rights
A hundred years ago, there was no such thing as jaywalking. If you wanted to walk across the street, you simply walked across the street. However, thanks to an aggressive campaign launched by auto companies and manufacturers in the 1920s, ideas about pedestrian safety and street ownership changed drastically.
A 1925 law made Los Angeles one of the first major cities to criminalize jaywalking. The ordinance confined pedestrians to sidewalks and crosswalks, requiring them to yield the pavement to motor vehicles everywhere except for at designated crossings. Other cities across the country followed suit, shifting the burden of safety primarily to pedestrians.
Racial Disparities in Traffic Enforcement
Jaywalking laws aren’t just problematic in terms of pedestrian rights; they also encourage discriminatory policing practices in black neighborhoods and communities of color. A number of studies have revealed that black and brown people across the U.S. are ticketed for jaywalking and similar violations at a disproportionate rate.
In fact, a ProPublica/Florida Times-Union analysis of pedestrian tickets issued between 2012 and 2017 in Jacksonville, Florida, found that black walkers were three times more likely to be issued a jaywalking ticket or related citation than white pedestrians. Critics of jaywalking laws have long cited this racial disparity as one of the many reasons to finally decriminalize it.
Understanding California’s Freedom to Walk Act
Before passage of the Freedom to Walk Act, a pedestrian could be cited for jaywalking under California Vehicle Code § 21955 and fined up to $250—simply for crossing the road outside of a designated walkway. Now that it’s partially decriminalized, police can only issue tickets for jaywalking when someone crosses the street in a truly dangerous manner.
What Does AB 2147 Accomplish?
The Freedom to Walk Act won’t stop people from being ticketed for crossing roads unsafely or put an end to all pedestrian accidents—and it’s not meant to. According to the California Bicycle Coalition (CalBike), a sponsor of AB 2147, this law is intended to do the following:
- Decriminalize safe, commonsense street crossing when traffic permits, whether or not a pedestrian uses a crosswalk
- Remove a pretext for over-policing in Black and Latinx communities
- Recognize pedestrians’ rights to fair and equitable use of public roadways
- End a traffic enforcement practice that puts undue financial strain on low-income residents without improving safety conditions
At the end of the day, AB 2147 offers marginalized pedestrians protections against discriminatory traffic enforcement practices. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean pedestrians will be injured or killed at a lower rate.
Will AB 2147 Reduce Pedestrian Injuries and Death?
While AB 2147 will inevitably reduce jaywalking fines, there’s no evidence that it will prevent pedestrian injuries and death, both of which continue to climb at an alarming rate in California. The state’s pedestrian fatality rate is already 25% higher than the national average, a figure that some fear will only increase under the new law.
Pedestrian Accidents Victims May Have Legal Recourse
As Californians continue to navigate the new jaywalking law, it’s important for injury victims to understand their rights. In many cases of pedestrian accidents, injured walkers are entitled to pursue compensation through a lawsuit. The best thing that these injury victims can do to protect their future is contact an experienced pedestrian accident lawyer.