The decriminalization of jaywalking statewide came one step closer following a 12-2 vote in favor of Assembly Bill 1238, also known as the Freedom to Walk Act, during the Assembly Transportation Committee on Tuesday.
AB 1238, authored by Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), would make it legal to cross a street when not at a crosswalk or against the crosswalk light when it is not an immediate hazard to do so. All fines associated with jaywalking, which can reach into the hundreds of dollars in some cities and counties, would be eliminated should the bill be passed.
Recent amendments also clarified lingering questions over the language of the bill, with the largest question being what constitutes an “immediate hazard”. The most recent version of the bill answered that, stating that an immediate hazard exists if the approaching vehicle is so near or is approaching so fast that a reasonably careful person would realize that there is a danger of collision.
“Whether it’s someone’s life or the hundreds of dollars in fines, the cost is too much for a relatively minor infraction,” said Assemblyman Ting in a statement last month. “It’s time to reconsider how we use our law enforcement resources and whether our jaywalking laws really do protect pedestrians.”
The committee passage of jaywalking decriminalization bill, which Assemblyman Ting wrote to combat the high jaywalking fines that can financially harm poorer people and how minorities are almost ten times as likely to receive such a ticket as compared to white Californians, was celebrated by many supporter groups on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“We applaud the Assembly Transportation Committee for advancing this important bill,” said California Bicycle Coalition (CalBike) Senior Policy Advocate Jared Sanchez. “Their strong support is a sign that California is ready to leave these regressive and oppressive laws in the dustbin of history, where they belong. Jaywalking laws do more than turn an ordinary and logical behavior into a crime; they also create opportunities for police to racially profile.”
However, despite the direct support of over 85 groups in favor of the bill, many still oppose AB 1238, as shown by the Republican Assemblywomen voting against the bill on Tuesday.
“To many, the bill is still rather vague,” noted lawyer Mark Roth, who has consulted on jaywalking offenses before, to the Globe. “Plus, it is still a big safety issue for many. Pedestrians have the right of way, but slow jaywalkers, or jaywalkers who fall or other scenarios where a jaywalker spends a long time in the street increases risk. And with California having a lot of dedicated automobile and bicycle lanes, it’s an open question on what accident rates would look like without jaywalking laws.”
AB 1238 will next face a vote in the Assembly Appropriations Committee in the next few weeks.