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Jaywalking occurs when a pedestrian walks in or crosses a roadway that has traffic, other than at a suitable crossing point, or otherwise in disregard of traffic rules. The term originated with "jay-drivers", people who drove horse-drawn carriages and automobiles on the wrong side of the road, before taking its current meaning.
Jaywalking laws vary widely by jurisdiction. In many countries such as the United Kingdom, the word is not generally used and there are no laws limiting how pedestrians can use public highways. This has caused confusion among tourists and other people visiting countries with such laws.
Legal texts in other countries use different concepts, such as Rules applicable to pedestrians in the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic. One member of this convention, the United Kingdom, does not have jaywalking laws; its Highway Code relies on the pedestrian making their own judgment on whether it is safe to cross based on the Green Cross Code. Pedestrians do have priority over turning vehicles. Rule 170 of the UK's Highway Code instructs a driver to "watch out for pedestrians crossing a road into which you are turning. If they have started to cross they have priority, so give way."
Origin of the term
The word jaywalk is not historically neutral. It is a compound word derived from the word jay, an inexperienced person and a curse word that originated in the early 1900s, and walk. No historical evidence supports an alternative folk etymology by which the word is traced to the letter "J" (characterizing the route a jaywalker might follow).
The word was promoted by pro-automobile interests in the 1920s, according to historian Peter D. Norton.
While jaywalking is associated with pedestrians today, the earliest references to "jay" behavior in the street were about horse-drawn carriages and automobiles in 1905 Kansas: "jay drivers" who did not drive on the right side of the street. The term swiftly expanded to pedestrians, and by 1909, The Chanute Daily Tribune warned "The jay walker needs attention as well as the jay driver, and is about as big a nuisance."
Originally, the legal rule was that "all persons have an equal right in the highway, and that in exercising the right each shall take due care not to injure other users of the way". In time, however, streets became the province of motorised traffic, both practically and legally. Automobile interests in the US took up the cause of labeling and scorning jaywalkers in the 1910s and early 1920s, by then the earlier term of "jay driver" was declining in use. The earliest citation in the Oxford English Dictionary follows in 1917.
Jaywalking is illegal in some countries due to the health risks. For example, a newspaper article introduced the term to readers in Grants Pass, Oregon in 1913:
"A campaign of ridicule directed toward the extermination of the "Jay Walker Family" was inaugurated [in Tacoma WA] today by the local automobile club. The "Jay Walker Family" according to explanations made today is numerous. It is composed of those pedestrians who cross congested streets without first looking to see if it is safe to do so. The local automobile club today adopted resolutions suggesting propaganda to be distributed all over the country to "kill off the Jay Walker Family." Automobile clubs all over the country ... will be asked to aid in exterminating "Mr. and Mrs. Jay Walker and all the little Walkers."
Today, in the US, the word might be used incorrectly with substantial confusion.
People jaywalk for various reasons, including convenience and sometimes even personal safety, generally to cross the street. Going to a crosswalk can require a long detour.
Although cultural norms about jaywalking vary by locality, the practice cannot simply be explained by corresponding differences in law. For example, cities like Copenhagen and New York City have similar restrictions on jaywalking at signalised crosswalks, but the practice is far more common in New York.:216, 222, 224
Pedestrians are often forced to walk outside crosswalks, when they are blocked by cars due to traffic congestion or drivers stopping too far forward. The common practice of car-centric traffic-signal synchronisation produces green waves for motorists but not necessarily for pedestrians, who may encounter little or no conflicting traffic at cross streets where signals instruct them to wait.
Pedestrians may dislike using crossing at intersections for other reasons, such as discomfort dealing with traffic from several directions (whereas a jaywalker at a location distant from an intersection only needs to observe two directions of traffic), or wanting to avoid the extra air emissions generated by vehicles stopping and starting (given that vehicular emissions are significantly less when vehicles are moving at steady speeds). In rural and suburban areas, people may jaywalk due to a lack of sidewalks. Some pedestrians are unwilling to observe lengthy wait times at signals. They are also more likely to make "informal crossings" at wide roads, or at locations where formal crosswalks are too distant to be practical for them to use.
Unsignalised marked crosswalks where drivers are more likely to yield to pedestrians are not necessarily safer than their unmarked counterparts, where pedestrians behave more cautiously, not expecting motorists to yield.:198
Many American newspapers publish stories that are critical of pedestrian road users' safety practices, while police departments often instigate education and enforcement campaigns to curb jaywalking. While nearly 60% of American pedestrian deaths occur outside of crosswalks, fewer than 20% occur in close proximity to a crosswalk.
Legal view by jurisdiction
When used in the technical sense, jaywalking specifically refers to violation of pedestrian traffic regulations and laws and is therefore illegal. In many countries, such regulations do not exist and jaywalking is an unknown concept.
In many European countries, pedestrians are banned from motorways (in the UK, motorways are defined in law as special roads) and possibly from express roads, but they are generally not prohibited from regular rural and urban roads. That is done in compliance with the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, which also contains concepts addressing the question of the usage of the road or street by pedestrians for walking or crossing. Some countries like Ireland do not comply with the convention as rigorously as others. Laws and traditions vary from country to country.
Pedestrians account for 10% of fatalities: 217 pedestrian fatalities on EU motorways in 2012 and 847 between 2010 and 2012. The rate is 20% in Poland, 17% in Great Britain, 15% in Spain and 10% in France. These include vehicle users who leave their vehicles after they have broken down, workers in work zones and individuals who illegally enter the motorway on foot.
Pedestrians must use marked crossings within 20 m if the speed limit is above 30 km/h. However, any physical injury to a pedestrian caused by a traffic accident is compensated by the insurance of the drivers involved, regardless of the responsibility of the pedestrian, unless the pedestrian is over 14 and wanted the accident and its consequences to occur.
It is legal to cross all roads except motorways in Finland. Crossing a road must be done in a perpendicular direction, without undue delay, and must use a zebra crossing if one is nearby. Cars are required by law to give way to pedestrians at zebra crossings unless there is a traffic light.
Pedestrians are required to use sidewalks (if any), and zebra crossings for crossing street if there is one within 50 m; they must also
- cross at right angles to the road axis,
- only cross a place or intersection if some zebra allows[clarification needed]
- cross only at the green pedestrian light if there is one, and
- obey a policeman if one is there regulating crossing.
More rules apply at night, on countryside roads, to groups of marching people, etc. Disregarding those rules may be punished by a fine of the lowest grade ("contravention de première classe": 11 to 17 €, or 33€ if paid late) but few people were ever fined for such behaviour; any actual fines were usually because they showed contempt instead of apologising or providing some valid safety reason. On the other hand, drivers must always let pedestrians cross if they have already started or if they clearly demonstrate the intention to do so, even when the pedestrian is disregarding the rules, and will bear full responsibility if an accident occurs. These rules are often not respected; most pedestrians would cross anywhere (including at a red pedestrian light) when no car can be seen nearby on the road, but would not take the risk of trying to cross even on a zebra crossing when a car is coming, until it stops.
On French motorways, pedestrians are banned; in case of breakdown motorists are required to leave the car and walk away to safety, behind fences or lines marking the road boundaries, where no car can hit them. Nonetheless, some pedestrians are injured on motorways: in 2016, on the tolled motorway network:
- 16% of fatalities were pedestrians, an average of 23 pedestrian fatalities per year on the network.
- 69% of pedestrian motorway fatalities occurred on motorway lanes, 28% occurred on emergency lanes, and 3% in rest areas.
- injured pedestrians' presence on the motorway was due to breakdowns, stopping in emergency lanes (40%), accidents (28%), motorway staff (3%), providing assistance (2%), or other reasons (27%).
Pedestrians must follow rules when crossing the street. Even so, Section 1 of the Road Traffic Regulations (Straßenverkehrsordnung (StVO)), the most important section, requires the road user not to endanger anybody. Car drivers must always be prepared to brake for pedestrians, especially for children and elderly people. On the other hand, pedestrians, according to Section 25 (VwV), must watch the vehicular traffic carefully and cross a street quickly and using the shortest way across the driving lanes.
Depending on the situation on the street, pedestrians may not cross the street except at intersections or within the markings of traffic signals or crosswalks. Pedestrians who cross the street at intersections or crossings must use existing traffic signals or crosswalks. If one wants to cross the street outside the markings of traffic lights or crosswalks, one must carefully observe before and during the crossing that the road is clear, and wait before crossing if a vehicle approaches. A pedestrian may not interrupt the flow of traffic.
Although 15m is not considered "at" the crosswalk or traffic light (KG Berlin VR 78 450), pedestrians may not cross the street 30 m (BGH VRS 26 327) near a crosswalk and 40 m (BGH NJW 00 3069: 39-43 m, KG Berlin VRS 89 98: 33.5m) near to a traffic light, but they do not need to go 200 m to a crossroad or 100 m to a traffic signal (OLG Hamburg VRS 87 249). During heavy traffic, pedestrians may not cross the street, as they might have to stop on a traffic lane (OLG Hamm, Az. 27 U 115/96). Typical fines for not using existing crosswalks or traffic lights in Germany are between €5 and €10.
Whilst jaywalking is not specifically defined by the Hungarian Highway Code (KRESZ) as an offence, various restrictions and prohibitions apply for pedestrians crossing or walking along roads. Fines are applied at the discretion of the police of up to 30,000 forint for each offence, according to Section 21 (1-13) of the code. Pedestrians have the right of way on crosswalks and may cross the road at certain specified points such as at intersections if crosswalks are not available. 
The Republic of Ireland maintains a jaywalking law, which requires a pedestrian to use a pedestrian crossing if they are within 15.24 metres (50 feet) of one. This law is generally dismissed by Irish pedestrians, who routinely cross all public roads except motorways. When crossing a road, pedestrians are advised to wait until it is safe to cross. Vehicles should give way to the pedestrian who uses a zebra crossing. Irish children are taught the RSA (Road Safety Authority) safe cross code in schools where it teaches them to stop, listen, and look out for any incoming traffic whilst crossing a road and only cross a road if safe to do so. It also advises them to use traffic lights and zebra crossings to cross a road rather than jaywalk. An Garda Síochána (Ireland's national police force) usually do not take action on jaywalkers unless they caused possible harm to drivers or others.
Pedestrians are allowed to cross a street without any recognised crossing point only if there are no zebra crossings within a range of 100 m, but they should be careful anyway. If pedestrians cross a street at a crosswalk, drivers must yield.
There is no concept of jaywalking in the Netherlands, so it is not an offence.
Jaywalking is an offence. One must cross only at recognised crossing points if there is one within 100 m (including pedestrian tunnels and footbridges). Otherwise, regular roads may be crossed with due care. Crossing dual carriageways (except motorways) is allowed only outside towns. Crossing tram and train tracks that are separate and parallel to street is always prohibited. Crossing on red lights is prohibited and considered to be an offence. According to regulations of "Prawo o Ruchu Drogowym" (traffic regulations act) crossing the road outside the pedestrian crossing is allowed only if it does not endanger traffic safety or obstruct traffic. The pedestrian is obliged to give priority to vehicles and follow the shortest line to the opposite edge of the road, perpendicular to the road axis. Crossing the track separated from the road is only allowed in designated locations.
It is illegal to cross the road except when the nearest zebra crossing is more than 50 m away. Any crossing above that distance is legal. Pedestrians have priority over cars but often ignore the rules.
It is legal to cross all roads except motorways in Denmark, Sweden and Norway. Cars and bikes are required by law to give way to pedestrians (but not bicycle riders) at zebra crossings unless there is a traffic light with a green light is green for the cars or bikes and no pedestrians are currently using the crossing. Pedestrians are encouraged to cross the road at zebra crossings if there is one nearby and are discouraged from crossing at a red light.
In Norway, a red man at the crossing is the signal for pedestrians not to begin crossing if it would impede cars or entail danger, but a person may walk across if there are no cars nearby. Risking oneself by running across in front of cars is not legal. Cyclists are required to stop at red lights, but because not everyone is aware of that, the Norwegian national cyclists' organisation has proposed to end confusion by prohibiting all people from crossing at red lights.
In Denmark, it is illegal to cross the road outside of a pedestrian crossing if one is nearby.
In Slovakia, it is illegal to cross roads other than at pedestrian crossings if there is a zebra crossing within 50 m (160 ft), or for certain types of road. If not regulated by traffic lights, pedestrians have priority on pedestrian crossings over cars but not trams. However, pedestrians must wait for a safe moment to cross and so cars usually fail to stop if there are pedestrians around, unlike in other European countries where pedestrians may cross immediately.
In Slovenia, pedestrians are generally allowed to cross the street unless there is a zebra crossing within 100 m (330 ft). As well as this, pedestrians also have priority at zebra crossings. However, pedestrians may not cross certain types of road.
In Switzerland, pedestrians are generally allowed to cross the street everywhere. They have priority on zebra crossings but should cross with care. However, they must use a pedestrian crossing, bridge or underpass if it is within 50 m. Certain types of roads must not be entered by pedestrians, such as highways and motorways. Failure to comply is subject to a fine of 20 Swiss Francs. Likewise, crossing or bypassing of closed railway gates is prohibited.
On motorways, fines may vary according on the situation. A driver driving at 100 km/h on a road with a 120 km/h speed limit, if the light visibility is 60 m and the braking distance is 65&nbps;m, may be fined for not noticing a person on the road. The fact that the person be suicidal does not matter. A fine of 210 Swiss francs fine is cheaper than the court costs. However, such circumstances may also be considered to be exceptional and unpredictable.
In England, Wales and Scotland it is legal to cross (or indeed, walk along) all roads except motorways (where pedestrians and slow vehicles are not permitted), and roads with the "No Pedestrians" sign displayed. The Highway Code contains additional rules for crossing a road safely, but these are recommendations and not legally enforceable, although as with other advisory parts of the Highway Code compliance or otherwise can be used to establish liability in civil law proceedings such as insurance claims.
The term "jaywalking" is rarely used, and there is no law preventing such an act. Culturally, "jaywalking" often confuses British citizens abroad and foreign visitors to the UK. It is not unknown for British citizens to commit offences abroad due to a lack of understanding over "jaywalking" laws in foreign jurisdictions. Transport for London identified tourists as being particularly vulnerable due to the increased judgement placed on crossing pedestrians in the UK, with many tourists copying local people's behaviour under the assumption it is safe to cross, without understanding they were "jaywalking" and potentially putting themselves in danger. (An important reason why tourists may be vulnerable is that many of them are not used to traffic driving on the left.) A 2014 Yougov poll found that 77% of Britons believed "jaywalking" should remain legal, with only 14% in favour of making it illegal. In contrast, a similar Yougov poll in the United States found that only 30% believed "jaywalking" should be legal.
When crossing a road, pedestrians are advised to use their judgement and wait until it is safe to cross. Under Rule 170 of the Highway Code, if a pedestrian has already started crossing the road (from either side) across a side street where a car is about to turn, vehicles should always give way to the pedestrian and let them leave the road safely. In UK schools children are taught to cross roads safely through the Green Cross Code. British children are taught to "Stop, Look and Listen" before crossing a road, as demonstrated in the Think! campaign.
In Northern Ireland, jaywalking can be charged at police discretion and usually only in the case of an accident when clearly witnessed. Otherwise, Northern Ireland is essentially the same as elsewhere in the UK.
Jaywalking is regulated at the Provincial and Municipal level so there is no nationwide standard. Fines vary across the country from $15 to $700. Jaywalking is an offense in Toronto and Montréal. Rob Ford was fined $109 for jaywalking in Coquitlam (part of Metro Vancouver) while visiting the city to attend the funeral of a friend's mother.
The term 'jaywalking' is not in the Ontario Highway Traffic Act. but Section 214 states that pedestrian fines not exceed $50. Many municipalities add court fees around $15. The current law is that pedestrians must cross at the crosswalk where one is provided, but mid-block crossings are legal in Ontario.
Jaywalking is not illegal in Mexico. However, on the Paseo de la Reforma, one of Mexico City's longest and most important avenues, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, then the city's mayor, commissioned the installation of concrete prisms along the avenue's central kerb, to discourage pedestrians from crossing the road.
State road rules in the United States usually require a driver to yield the right of way to a pedestrian crossing a road when the pedestrian crosses at a marked crosswalk or an unmarked crosswalk. Unmarked crosswalks generally exist as the logical extensions of sidewalks at intersections with approximately right angles. Following the Uniform Vehicle Code, state codes often do not prohibit a pedestrian from crossing a roadway between intersections if at least one of the two adjacent intersections is not controlled by a signal, but they stipulate that a pedestrian not at a crosswalk must yield the right of way to approaching drivers. State codes often permit pedestrians to use roads that are not controlled access facilities and without sidewalks but such use is usually regulated. For example, in Florida they must keep to the shoulder of the leftmost side of the road and yield to any oncoming traffic.
State codes may include provisions that allow local authorities to prohibit pedestrian crossing at locations outside crosswalks, but since municipal pedestrian ordinances are often not well known to drivers or pedestrians and can vary from place to place in a metropolitan area that contains many municipalities, obtaining compliance with local prohibitions of pedestrian crossings much more restrictive than statewide pedestrian regulations can be difficult. Signs, fences, and barriers of various types (including planted hedges) have been used to prohibit and prevent pedestrian crossing at some locations. If the detour to a legal crossing would be highly inconvenient, even fences are sometimes not effective. Street design, traffic design, and locations of major building entrances that make crosswalks the most logical and practical locations to cross streets are usually more effective than police enforcement to reduce illegal or reckless pedestrian crossings.
At a signaled crossing, a pedestrian is subject to the applicable pedestrian traffic signal or, if no pedestrian signal is displayed, the signal indications for the parallel vehicular movement. A pedestrian signal permits a pedestrian to begin crossing a street during the "Walk" display; pedestrians are usually considered to be "jaywalking" only if they enter the crosswalk some other time. The meanings of pedestrian signal indications are summarised in Section 4E.02 of the national Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.
Jaywalking is considered an infraction, but in some jurisdictions, it is a misdemeanor or requires a court appearance. The penalty is usually a fine. In some cities, such as New York City, Chicago, and Boston, although prohibited, "jaywalking" has been so common that police generally cite or detain jaywalkers only if their behavior is considered excessively dangerous or disruptive, such as running out in front of a moving vehicle or crossing after the light is about to change to allow cross traffic to proceed. Penalties for jaywalking vary by state, and, within a state, may vary by county or municipality. A sampling of US cities found fines ranging from $1 to $1,000.
In May 2017, a Boston Globe reporter spent the day attempting to get a citation for jaywalking in downtown traffic. The reporter walked against lights, crossed in the middle of streets, and across the middle of blocks and did not receive a ticket, even when committing infractions in front of police officers.
Jaywalking at a signalised intersection may carry higher fines in some jurisdictions for disobeying the signalised controls. Many jurisdictions have a separate law defining the difference between jaywalking, or "disobedience of traffic signal controls."Some jurisdictions may fine pedestrians up to the same amount as a vehicle running a red light, but no driving points are issued, as the pedestrian was not driving at the time.
In the United States, jaywalking is mainly an urban issue (71%), but it can also be a suburban or rural issue when no pavement is available.
In the United States, jaywalking might be understood as:
- walking against a pedestrian walk signal,
- crossing a street where there is no crosswalk (midblock crossing),
- crossing a street outside of a marked crosswalk where one is present, and
- walking on a street along with the traffic flow (ignoring designated pedestrian pathways).
However other pedestrian behaviour might be considered as unsafe while not qualified of jaywalking, for instance, failing to yield (both drivers and pedestrians), jogging/walking in the wrong direction, working on a parked car, leaning on a parked car, pushing a disabled car, standing between parked cars, and standing in a road.
Some pedestrian factors that lead to a jaywalking behavior were found to be pedestrian perceptions of risk, consumption of alcohol, perceptions of crossing devices, speed and pace of life, speed versus crossing-device speed, perceptions of enforcement risk, unawareness of pedestrian laws and safety, following the leader.
Some known environmental factors include absence of midblock crosswalks, width of roads, poor timing of crossing signals, poor conditions of sidewalks, absence of sidewalks in certain areas, capacity of sidewalks, weather, people with limited mobility, people with occupational risks, children and teens, parking areas near shopping centers, street repair and construction sites, major highways, one-way streets, location of attractions, unlawful street-vending.
In Brazil, it is illegal to cross the road if the nearest zebra crossing is within 50 m. Pedestrians have priority over cars. According to CONTRAN resolution 706/17 from April 25, 2018, violators could pay a fine up to 44.19 Brazilian reals; however, the measure is rarely enforced.
In many Asian countries, the low level of traffic control means that jaywalking is often more of a necessity to a pedestrian and is rarely punished except in major commercial hubs such as Singapore. In many countries like India and Vietnam, the level of traffic makes it common for pedestrians to walk out into oncoming traffic and effectively "carve out" a route to the other side of the road.
In recent years, jaywalking has become more strictly controlled in China as car traffic increased. Police have tested facial recognition to identify jaywalkers. The authorities applied a new method to deter jaywalkers by displaying their photo on large public screens in the area where the jaywalking occurred, to publicly shame any violator of pedestrian street rules. The system has flaws: the photo of the powerful businesswoman Dong Mingzhu was displayed on those screens after the IA systems misinterpreted her appearance on a bus advertisement as a real person crossing the street in an illegal fashion.
In India, jaywalking is not explicitly included in the law as an offence but is covered under the broader term 'obstruction of traffic' in state and metropolitan laws. Examples include section 28B of the Delhi Police Act, 33B of the Bombay Police Act and 92G of the Karnataka Police Act. However, jaywalking is common in cities because of the lack of regulated crossings and footpaths and the poor regulation of related laws by authorities. Drives against jaywalking are conducted by the police departments from time to time and offenders are given fines of 100 to 500 Indian rupees, depending upon the jurisdictions. Drivers must yield the right of way for pedestrians at unsignalled crossings and marked pedestrian crossings.
In Iran, crossing outside crossing points within 150 of one or if the pedestrian light is red, as well as starting to cross when the light is flashing, has been prohibited since the 1970s. If in an intersection there is no pedestrian light, traffic lights would be considered and so it is illegal when it is red or orange. As of November, 2009, jaywalking carries fines from 300,000 up to 2,000,000 rials (US$9 to US$60). The law has almost never been enforced.
In Singapore, jaywalking is an offence. A fine of $50 is payable for the first offence. Repeat offenders can be charged $1000 and a jail term of 3 months, but the latter is rarely imposed. In 2011, 8,650 people were caught jaywalking and fined in Singapore. Between January and March 2012, Singapore prosecuted 1,758 for jaywalking, and between January and March 2013, 2,409 jaywalkers were fined.
In Australia, it is illegal to start crossing the road at an intersection if a pedestrian light is red or flashing red. If no such pedestrian light exists, the traffic lights are used, making it illegal to proceed on red or orange. Furthermore, it is illegal to cross any road within 20 m of an intersection with pedestrian lights or within 20 m of any pedestrian crossing (including a zebra crossing, school crossing, or any other pedestrian crossing).
However, laws against jaywalking are rarely enforced, with the exception of the occasional police "blitz" on jaywalking for a week or so at a time, when the laws are enforced more stringently. Some roads with a record of pedestrian accidents feature fences in the centre to discourage pedestrians, but there is no law against crossing them. States set their own fines for jaywalking. The fine is $50 in Western Australia.
Pedestrians in New Zealand must, if possible, cross at right angles to the kerb or side of the roadway unless they use pedestrian crossings or school crossing points. Pedestrians must use a pedestrian crossing, footbridge, underpass or traffic signal within 20 m. At intersections controlled by signals, pedestrians should wait for the green man to display and may not begin crossing when the static or the flashing red man is displayed. The fine for jaywalking is up to $35.
In Zimbabwe, jaywalking is illegal, as per the traffic laws gazetted in 2013 by the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure Development. Disregarding designated crossing points or passing through red traffic lights carry a punishment of up to six months in jail or a US$20 fine, as part of the new Highway Code. The code also deal with all road users; it used to emphasise rules for motorists and cyclists.
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