Is It Illegal to Jaywalk in California? This is What the Law Says

Ever crossed the street in the middle of a block to avoid having to wait at a crossing for a few minutes? Or maybe you crossed the street without looking at a car at a quiet crossing. Most likely, you’ve jaywalked at some point if you’ve ever been to California. But because California’s rules on jaywalking have changed recently, many people aren’t sure if it’s still illegal.

People who cross the street without using a signal are said to be jaywalking. This has been a controversial topic for a long time. People who support rules against jaywalking say that they are needed to keep pedestrians safe and traffic moving. People who are against these rules say they unfairly target pedestrians and can have a bigger effect on some communities than others. The new law in California about jaywalking tries to find a middle ground between these two points of view.

Why Is Jaywalking a Law?

Laws against jaywalking were first made in the early 1900s to deal with the growing number of cars on the road. The goal was to make the system reliable for both cars and pedestrians so that accidents would happen less often. Research has shown that most accidents involving pedestrians happen outside of crosswalks. This shows that these rules might make things safer.

California’s Changing Landscape on Jaywalking

Pre-2023 Jaywalking Laws in California

Before 2023, California, like most states, had rules that made it illegal to jaywalk. Specifically, Vehicle Code Section 21955 said that people could only cross the street at a marked crossing or an intersection when a pedestrian signal said it was safe to do so. Police officers were allowed to give tickets to pedestrians who broke this rule.

The Freedom to Walk Act of 2023

Because of Assembly Bill No. 2097, also called the Freedom to Walk Act, which became law on January 1, 2023, California’s laws on jaywalking changed in a big way. The law puts a lot of limits on when a police officer can ticket a person for jaywalking.

What the Law Changed: The Freedom to Walk Act does not make it totally okay to cross the street without looking. Instead, it only enforces the law when a person crossing the street creates “an immediate danger of collision.” This means that police can only ticket pedestrians when their acts put other pedestrians or drivers in danger.

Why the Law Was Changed: People who supported the Freedom to Walk Act said that the old rules against jaywalking were unfair and biased. Researchers have found that people of color are ticketed for jaywalking more often than white walkers. Furthermore, they said that focusing on dangerous jaywalking would be a better way for police to use their resources.

Thoughts on the Law: People who were against the law were worried that it would make pedestrian crashes more common. They say that the lack of regulation could make people crossing the street more likely to take risks that aren’t necessary.

Jaywalking in California: Safe Practices and the Law

When is Jaywalking Illegal in California?

Even though California has the Freedom to Walk Act, there are still times when you can get a ticket for jaywalking. Know this:

  • Creating an Immediate Danger: If a pedestrian’s actions create a situation where a collision is likely, they can still be cited for jaywalking. This includes crossing busy streets in the middle of traffic, darting out from between parked cars, or crossing against a clear “Don’t Walk” signal.
  • Respecting Marked Crosswalks and Signals: While pedestrians have more freedom now, they are still encouraged to use marked crosswalks and obey pedestrian signals whenever possible. This not only reduces the risk of accidents but also helps to maintain a predictable traffic flow.

Safe Practices for Pedestrians in California

Safety should always be the first thing a traveler thinks about, no matter what the law says. When walking in California, even if you’re thinking about jaywalking, here are some safe things to do:

  • Utilizing Crosswalks and Signals:
    • Even though the Freedom to Walk Act gives pedestrians more leeway, using designated crosswalks and pedestrian signals remains the safest option. Marked crosswalks provide a clear path for pedestrians to cross the street, and pedestrian signals indicate when it’s safe to proceed. This reduces the risk of confusion for both pedestrians and drivers.
  • Prioritizing Visibility at Night:
    • When walking at night, especially when considering jaywalking, it’s crucial to prioritize visibility. Wear light-colored clothing or reflective gear to ensure drivers can easily see you. Utilize crosswalks with proper lighting whenever possible. If you must jaywalk at night, choose a well-lit area and make eye contact with drivers before crossing.
  • Avoiding Distractions While Walking:
    • Distractions like phones, headphones, or even daydreaming can significantly impair your ability to react safely while crossing the street. Put your phone away, keep your headphone volume low enough to be aware of your surroundings, and stay focused on the task of crossing the street safely.
  • Understanding Vehicle Blind Spots:
    • Drivers have blind spots around their vehicles, particularly near the front pillars and rear corners. Be aware of these blind spots and avoid standing in them when crossing. Make eye contact with drivers whenever possible to ensure they see you before stepping into the street.


The Freedom to Walk Act in California is part of a larger national trend to give walkers more freedom and flexibility on the streets. The law is less strict when it comes to jaywalking, but safety should always come first. People who walk can reduce their risks and make sure they have a safe and enjoyable experience by following safe practices and using common sense.

It is important to keep in mind that the rules can be different in each city or town in California. The Freedom to Walk Act sets the general rules, but different cities and towns may have their own rules about how pedestrians should behave. Always make sure to check with your local government to see if there are any specific rules about pedestrian safety in your area.

In the end, there needs to be a mix between pedestrian freedom and road safety. The new laws in California are a step toward achieving this balance. People who walk can feel safe on California’s streets as long as they prioritize safety steps and use their newfound freedom responsibly.

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