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February 2, 2024 7 mins

As a pedestrian, crossing the street wherever you want can be dangerous -- which is why it's still technically illegal in many American jurisdictions. Learn more in this episode of BrainStuff, based on this article: https://auto.howstuffworks.com/car-driving-safety/accidents-hazardous-conditions/jaywalking-crime.htm

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
Welcome to Brainstuff, a production of iHeartRadio. Hey Brainstuff, Lauren Vogelbaum. Here,
you're in a rush and don't want to head all
the way to the crosswalk to cross the street anyway?
Who cares? Right? The store you need is directly across
the street, not anywhere near the intersection, so you go

(00:22):
ahead and cross when traffic is clear. What you've just
done is jaywalked across to the street at somewhere other
than an intersection or crosswalk, And it's probably illegal. But why?
Mostly this has to do with pedestrian safety in general,
and it makes sense considering that data from the National

(00:44):
Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, shows a total of
over six thousand pedestrian deaths in twenty nineteen alone. Furthermore,
while pedestrians represent only three percent of those involved in
traffic accidents, they account for fourteen teen percent of traffic deaths,
and about seventy percent of pedestrian fatalities are from accidents

(01:05):
outside of intersections. So, yes, jaywalking is illegal for safety reasons,
got it. But jaywalking's history and the enforcement of it
is more complicated than one might expect. The term jaywalking
is derived from an older and now more obscure term
jay driving. Jay driving was used to describe drivers of

(01:28):
horse drawn carriages who stubbornly drove on the wrong side
of the road. Some of the earliest known uses of
both jaywalking and jay driving come from newspapers in Kansas
in nineteen oh five. In both cases, the word jay
was a derogatory term for someone who was inexperienced at
what they were doing. However, the earliest uses of jaywalking

(01:53):
described poor sidewalk manners rather than illegally crossing the street.
It's unclear exactly why the meaning of the time of all.
One might assume that when the automobile appeared, the car
also became a status symbol, and therefore that there was
class tension among those who could afford to drive and
those who were stuck walking, But in fact the opposite

(02:16):
is true. Drivers were the social outsiders, outnumbered by pedestrians
who resented being displaced to sidewalks. This social phase lasted
well into the nineteen twenties, when the automobile industry lobbied
to make cities more car friendly and to make jaywalking
first a faux pas and then eventually a crime. A

(02:36):
crosswalks were added to streets in nineteen eleven, and laws
against jaywalking were widespread by the nineteen thirties. These days,
if your hit while jaywalking, your rights as a pedestrian
vary from state to state. Most states view the situation differently,
depending on whether the pedestrian was in a controlled crossing
with a crosswalk or an uncontrolled crossing with no markings

(02:57):
or signals of Further complicating matters, traffic signals don't always
have the same meaning in every state, and some states
have distracted walking laws that let law enforcement issue citations
for offences such as texting while crossing an intersection. Then
there are states like Michigan that have no state wide
crosswalk laws, leaving it up to cities and towns to

(03:19):
write and communicate their own regulations. So when you're behind
the wheel, how do you keep up with all those laws?
Consider that old rule of thumb that you might have
learned way back in driver's education. The right of way
is something you give, not take a Laws for drivers
again vary from state to state, but in general, drivers

(03:41):
must yield the right of way to pedestrians in crosswalks
and at intersections that have stop signs or traffic signals.
But pedestrians are also expected to yield the right of
way to drivers whenever there's no established place for them
to cross still. In nineteen states, drivers are supposed to
yield to a pedestrian when they're anywhere in the roadway,

(04:03):
and in even more states, drivers are supposed to yield
to pedestrians whenever the pedestrian is in whatever specific proximity
to the driver's vehicle. The NHTSA has a guide for
Pedestrian Safety Enforcement for law enforcement officers. It advises those
officers to quote site both drivers and pedestrians, but focus

(04:23):
on drivers as they are the less vulnerable population. In
other words, pedestrians and drivers often share responsibility for collisions,
but drivers should remember that they are much less likely
to suffer bodily harm. But okay, you've probably heard the
pedestrians always have the right of way even if they

(04:44):
are jaywalking. Is that not true? Surprise? There are a
couple of ways to answer this question. First, it depends
again on local laws. A second, it depends on what
the driver's car insurance policy says under those local laws.
And third, and most importantly, if you're driving and you
hit a pedestrian and they get injured, it doesn't really

(05:07):
matter who was right. The NHTSA's guidelines emphasize the pedestrians
are still responsible for their own safety. However, it's also
the obligation of motorists to be on the lookout for
pedestrians everywhere and at all times. But what about those jaywalkers?
Are they likely to be penalized for the practice in general?

(05:31):
The answer is probably no. However, according to various investigations,
current enforcement against jaywalking disproportionately targets people of color. For example,
following the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri
in twenty fourteen, a Department of Justice investigation found that
ninety five percent of people cited for jaywalking in that

(05:51):
district were black, even though only about seventy five percent
of the total population was black at the time. Even
in the mostly white collar town of Champagne or Banno, Illinois,
eighty nine percent of people cited for jaywalking. We're black.
And even when jaywalking enforcement isn't overtly racist, it may
target pedestrians in misleading or unfair ways as a means

(06:15):
of revenue generation rather than safety. Improvement. So in short, yes,
jaywalking is illegal in most jurisdictions, but it falls on
both drivers and pedestrians to be aware of local laws.
Though even then common sense and a priority on safety
should prevail. Pay attention out there. Today's episode is based

(06:43):
on the article is jaywalking still a crime? On how
stuffworks dot com? Written by Shri's three wid brain Stuff
is production by heart Radio in partnership with how stuffworks
dot Com and is produced by Tyler Klang. Four more
podcasts from my heart Radio, visit the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts,
or wherever you listen to your favorite shows

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