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California Unleashes Pedestrian Power With the New Freedom to Walk Act

As of Jan. 1, 2023, jaywalking has been decriminalized in California. Under the “Freedom to Walk Act,” otherwise known as “AB 2147,” California’s jaywalking law was repealed. As a pedestrian, your rights are important, and this piece of critical legislation may have expanded those rights to your benefit.

In this post, we’ll cover the implications and impacts of the Freedom to Walk Act on your day-to-day life. We’ll also touch on what the Freedom to Walk Act means for you if you are hit or injured when crossing the street in California.

What Pedestrians Need to Know About the Freedom to Walk Act  

California’s Freedom to Walk Act was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in September of 2022 and took effect on the first day of January 2023. The amendments to the jaywalking law in California are now codified in the California Vehicle Code Section 21955. Prior to the Act’s effect, California had some of the strictest jaywalking laws in the country, imposing fines of up to $250 and citations if a jaywalking pedestrian was stopped by an officer.

Do Pedestrians Have the Right to Jaywalk in California?

In some cases, yes, but in many cases, the answer is still no — pedestrians do not have complete and total rights to jaywalk in California. Pedestrians still must yield the right of way to vehicles if they choose to jaywalk, which is to cross the street via a route not designated for them when there is, in fact, a designated crossing path available.

Can the Police Stop You for Jaywalking in California?

Yes, the police can still stop pedestrians for jaywalking in California, but only if a “reasonably careful person” would believe there to be an immediate chance that the pedestrian was going to be hit by a vehicle. Pedestrians cannot be fined if stopped or otherwise apprehended solely for jaywalking.

Why Did California Pass the Jaywalking Decriminalization Act?

California lawmakers passed the jaywalking decriminalization act (the “Freedom to Walk Act”) for many reasons, including to promote pedestrian safety and to reduce the disproportionate adverse effects on the state’s minority populations.

Some proponents of the legislation have argued that citations and police stops for jaywalking impacted people of color at an uneven rate, punishing them for an often victimless crime that may be a result of poor and pedestrian-unfriendly road designs.

If You Are Hit by a Car in California While Crossing the Street, Who Is At Fault?

Fault is determined on a very fact-specific, case-by-case basis. Your case and exact circumstances are unique.

Just because jaywalking has been decriminalized in California does not mean that pedestrians have zero blame in accidents. But, the repeal of California’s prior jaywalking laws is a huge help to pedestrians who were hit by vehicles while jaywalking.

The Freedom to Walk Act removes the “negligence per se” aspect at play in jaywalking pedestrian collision cases, a factor that could unfairly bar pedestrians from recovery after their injuries. In other words, the Freedom to Walk Act removes the idea that just because a pedestrian was jaywalking, they shouldn’t be permitted to recover for their injuries if they otherwise deserve to.

California is a “comparative negligence” jurisdiction, which means that in the state of California, more than one person, and sometimes both parties, can be at fault in an accident. As a general rule of thumb, if a pedestrian is found to be 50 percent at fault for the accident, they may recover an award of up to 50 percent of what they would otherwise be owed if they weren’t at fault at all.

Again, your circumstances are unique. You should review the specifics of your case with an experienced personal injury attorney before assuming you were at fault — whether fully or partially — in an accident. Your attorney can discuss your options with you and help you determine the best course of action to recover what you deserve after your injury.

How Pedestrians Can Stay Safe on California Streets

While the Freedom to Walk Act may be a victory for pedestrians in the courtroom, we should all still be extremely careful to exercise caution while walking and crossing the street. Here are a few tips for staying safe when walking in California:

  • Pay attention to traffic signals, and look for them specifically. Keep in mind that traffic signs or lights may be hidden behind large vehicles, objects, trees, or overgrown shrubbery.
  • If a sidewalk or crosswalk is safe and available, use it. Sidewalks are usually the safest places for pedestrians to walk.
  • Look for oncoming traffic in both directions. Just because a street is usually a one-way road doesn’t mean a vehicle may not be coming in the opposite direction than you expect.
  • If no crosswalk is available, cross where you’ll be most visible to traffic. Well-lit areas offer the most protection for pedestrians attempting to cross the road.

What Should I Do If I Was Injured While Crossing the Street?

If you were injured while crossing the street, it’s critical to reach out to an experienced personal injury attorney to review the facts of your case. You deserve justice, and just because you were jaywalking doesn’t necessarily mean you were at fault for your injuries.

An experienced personal injury attorney can help you make sense of your rights and obligations if you were involved in a pedestrian accident. Reaching out to qualified counsel right away is important – especially before giving any statements to insurance companies. Statutes of limitations (a critical piece of California law) may bar or limit your potential for recovery if you wait too long to pursue a case after your accident.

As always, you shouldn’t speak with an insurance company about a settlement offer or provide any facts about your case before you’ve spoken with an attorney who has your best interests in mind. While insurance companies often want to pay injured individuals the least possible amount of money they can, a personal injury attorney can fight for the amount of money you deserve.