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Sign prohibiting jaywalking in Singapore's Orchard Road

Jaywalking occurs when a pedestrian walks in or crosses a roadway that has traffic. 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.[1]

The term "jaywalking" is used largely in the United States where rules applicable to pedestrians are less permissive than in countries such as the United Kingdom.[2] Legal texts in other countries use different concepts, such as Rules applicable to pedestrians in the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic.[3] 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 states that a driver should "watch out for pedestrians crossing a road into which you are turning. If they have started to cross they have priority, so give way."[4]

Origin of the term

An anti-jaywalking poster created in 1937 as part of the United States WPA's Federal Art Project

The word jaywalk is not historically neutral.[5] 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.[6] 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).

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 correct side of the street.[1] 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."[1]

The word was promoted by pro-automobile interests in the 1920s, according to historian Peter D. Norton.[7]

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".[8] In time, however, streets became the province of motorized 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.[9][10] The earliest citation in the Oxford English Dictionary follows in 1917.

Jaywalking is illegal in over 10 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."[11]

Today, in the US, the word might be used incorrectly with substantial confusion.[12]


Jaywalkers cross a congested street in Midtown Manhattan, 1973

People jaywalk for various reasons, including convenience and sometimes even personal safety, generally to cross the street.[citation needed] Going to a crosswalk can require a long detour.[citation needed] Pedestrians are often forced to walk outside crosswalks, when they are blocked by cars due to traffic congestion or drivers stopping too far forward.[citation needed] The common practice of car-centric traffic-signal synchronization 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.[citation needed] Where signalized crosswalks require a pedestrian to trigger their operation, they are at times unusable for some Jewish people who observe Shabbat.[13]:112–113 Also, pedestrians are generally unwilling to observe lengthy wait times at signals.[citation needed] They are also more likely to make "informal crossings" at wide roads, or at locations where formal crosswalks are simply too distant to be practical for them to use.[citation needed] Also, pedestrians may dislike using intersections for other reasons, such as being uncomfortable dealing with traffic from a multitude of directions (whereas jaywalking at a location distant from an intersection results in the need to observe only 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).[citation needed] In rural and suburban areas, people may jaywalk due to a lack of sidewalks.

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 signalized crosswalks, but the practice is far more common in New York.[13]:216, 222, 224


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.[14]

When practiced with caution, jaywalking or crossing away from intersections, where legal, can be safer for pedestrians than exercising their right-of-way at crosswalks that are not equipped with pedestrian signals.[citation needed] Additionally, unsignalized 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.[13]:198

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.


Pedestrian prohibition in Luxembourg
Motorways status is signaled at the entry and exit of the motorway by a symbol conforming to international agreements, but specific to each country. Pedestrian are usually banned on European motorways

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 are generally not prohibited from regular rural and urban roads. This is done in compliance with the Vienna convention on road traffic,[15] which also contains concepts addressing the question of the usage of the road or street by pedestrians for walking or crossing. Some countries such as Ireland do not comply with the Vienna 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. This rate is 20% in Poland, 17% in Great Britain, 15% in Spain and 10% in France. Amongst those pedestrians killed on motorways are vehicle users who have left their vehicles, workers in work zones and individuals who entered the motorway on foot illegally.[16]


Pedestrians must use marked crossings if located within 30 metres when the speed limit is above 30 km/h.[17] However, any physical damage to a pedestrian caused by a traffic accident shall be compensated by the insurance of the drivers involved, regardless of the responsibility of the pedestrian, except if that pedestrian is over 14 and wanted the accident and its consequences to occur.[18]


It is legal to cross all roads except motorways in Finland. Cars are required by law to give way to pedestrians at zebra crossings unless there is a traffic light. Motorway jaywalking is an offence.


Pedestrians shall be required to use zebra crossings for crossing street if there is one within 50 metres.[19] However, this rule is often not respected by most French people when there is no car nearby in sight on the road.[citation needed] Car drivers must always let pedestrians cross if they have already started, even outside zebra crossings.[20]

On French motorways, pedestrians are banned. Nonetheless some pedestrians might be in motorways:

  • In 2016, on the tolled motorway network, 16% of fatalities were pedestrians[21]; this makes an average of 23 pedestrian fatalities per year on this network.
  • In 2016, on the tolled motorway network, 69% of pedestrian motorways fatalities occurred on the motorway lanes while 28% occurred on the emergency lane, and 3% on a rest area.[22]
  • In 2016, presence of pedestrian on the motorway was due to Breakdown, stopping on emergency lane (40%), accident (crash) (28%), motorway staff (3%), Pedestrian providing assistance (2%), other pedestrian (27%).[23]
  • In 2012, presence of pedestrian on the motorway was due to Breakdown, stopping on emergency lane (36%), accident (crash) (38%), motorway staff (5%), other pedestrian (21%).[24]


Pedestrians must follow rules regarding when it is or is not appropriate to cross the street. Even so, the first and most important paragraph of the StVO §1[25] is not to endanger anybody. Car drivers must always be prepared to brake for pedestrians, especially for children and elderly people. On the other hand, German pedestrians, according to the German Road Traffic Regulations (Straßenverkehrsordnung) § 25, Abs. 3, StVO (VwV), have to watch the vehicular traffic carefully and cross a street quickly and on the shortest way across the driving lanes. If the situation on the street requires, pedestrians are only allowed to cross the street at intersections or within the markings of traffic signals or crosswalks. Pedestrians who cross the street at intersections or crossings have to use existing traffic signals or crosswalks. If one wants to cross the street outside the markings of traffic lights or crosswalks, one must carefully convince one's self before and during the crossing that the road is clear and wait before crossing if a vehicle approaches. A pedestrian must not interrupt the flowing traffic.[26] Although 15 meters is not considered "at" the crosswalk or traffic light (KG Berlin VR 78 450), pedestrians may not cross the street 30 meter (BGH VRS 26 327) near a crosswalk and 40 meter (BGH NJW 00 3069: 39-43m; 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). In heavy traffic, pedestrians must 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.[27]


Whilst jaywalking is not defined by the Hungarian Highway Code (KRESZ) specifically as an offence, various restrictions and prohibitions apply for pedestrians crossing roads or walking along roads in a very complex and loosely defined manner, that leaves much up to interpretations by the authorities, and fines are applied at the discretion of the Police for up to 30,000 HUF for each offence, all referring to section 21 § (1-13) of the Highway Code. Generally, pedestrians have the right of way once entering the road, although reasonable care and vigilance is expected of them. Wherever a crossing exists this must be used, although without any further reference to what extent, leaving the pedestrian exposed to potential financial fines on the spot. Unlike in most European countries, there is no defined extent to where crossings must be used, and the authorities regularly fine people at will.


Pedestrians are allowed to cross a street without any recognised crossing point only if there are no zebra crossings within a range of 100 metres. If a pedestrian crosses a street at a crosswalk, drivers must yield. Pedestrians should cross carefully anyways.[28]


Jaywalking is an offence. One must cross only at recognized crossing points, if there is one within 100 m (incl. pedestrian tunnels and footbridges). If there is none, then crossing regular roads is allowed, with due care. Crossing double lane streets (except motorways) is allowed only outside towns. Crossing tram and train tracks that are separate and parallel to street is always prohibited.[29]


It is illegal to cross the road if the nearest zebra crossing is in a 50-meter vicinity. Any crossing above that distance is legal. Pedestrians have priority over cars. However, pedestrians often ignore this rule.[citation needed]


In Scandinavian countries, 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 and the light is green for the cars or bikes and there are no pedestrians currently passing the crossing. Pedestrians are encouraged to cross the road at zebra crossings if there is one nearby and are also discouraged from crossing at a red light.[citation needed]

In Norway, a red man signal at the crossing indicates that pedestrians must not begin crossing if it would impede cars or entail danger,[30] but a person may walk across if there are no cars nearby. Taking risks and running across in front of cars is not legal. Not everyone is aware that cyclists are required to stop at a red signal, and the Norwegian national cyclists' organization has proposed disallowing all people from crossing at red to reduce the confusion.[31]

In Denmark, it is illegal to cross the road outside of a pedestrian crossing if within 30 meters from a crossing (according to a newspaper[32]) or if there is a crossing "nearby" (according to the law[33]).


In Serbia, it is illegal to cross roads other than at pedestrian crossings if there is a zebra crossing within 100 metres.[citation needed]


In Slovakia, it is illegal to cross roads other than at pedestrian crossings if there is a zebra crossing within 50 metres. Any crossing above that distance is legal (except for certain types of roads (highway etc.)) but cars have priority in that case. If not regulated by traffic lights pedestrians have priority on pedestrian crossings over cars, but not over trams. However pedestrian is required to wait for the safe moment to cross and so cars usually don't stop as soon as there's pedestrian around (as usual in some other European countries where pedestrians can typically cross without any waiting).[citation needed]


In Slovenia pedestrians are in general allowed to cross the street everywhere. Pedestrians have priority on zebra crossings. If there is a zebra crossing within 100 metres, pedestrians have to use it. Certain types of roads (highway etc.) are not allowed for pedestrians.[citation needed]


Prohibition of pedestrians (includes any kind of vehicle-like transport means, e.g. rollerblades, skateboards, scooters)

In Switzerland pedestrians are in general allowed to cross the street everywhere. Pedestrians have priority on zebra crossings but should cross with care.[34] If there is a zebra crossing within 50 metres, they have to use it. When there is no zebra crossing, the driver is expected to stop their vehicle and to ease the crossing for pedestrians.[35] Certain types of roads (highway etc.) are not allowed for pedestrians.[citation needed]

In motorways of Switzerland, fine may vary depending on the situation. A driver driving at 100km/hr on a road limited at 120km/hr with a light visibility of 60 meters and a braking distance of 65 metres can be fined for not be prepared for a person laid on the road. The fact that the person be suicidal does not matter. Fine could include a 210 Swiss francs fine even if cheaper than court costs. Nonetheless, similar circumstances, might also be considered as completely exceptional and unpredictable situation when it occurs to a policewoman answering an emergency call.[36]

United Kingdom

The term "jaywalking" is rarely used, and there is no law preventing such an act. 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,[37] 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.[38]

When crossing a road, pedestrians are advised to wait until it is safe to cross. If a pedestrian is crossing the road across a side street where a car is about to turn, vehicles should give way to the pedestrian.[39] 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.

Zebra crossings can be seen in many roads in towns and cities. These are marked crossings where pedestrians have legal priority when crossing a road. Vehicular traffic must stop at zebra crossings for pedestrians who have started to cross the road. The Highway Code advises pedestrians to walk within the marked path (studs or stripes) of pedestrian crossings; and not to cross the carriageway over the zig-zag lines painted either side of the crossing itself.[40]

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.[citation needed]

North America


Jaywalking is regulated at the Provincial and Municipal level so there is no nationwide standard. Fines vary across the country from CAN$15 to CAN$700.[41] In Toronto and Montréal, jaywalking is an offense and in some cases, the practice had been fined frequently.[42] Rob Ford was fined CAN$109 for jaywalking in Coquitlam (part of Metro Vancouver) while visiting the funeral of a friend's mother.[43]


The term 'jaywalking' is not in the Ontario Highway Traffic Act.[44] Section 214 states that pedestrian fines not exceed CAN$50, although many municipalities add court fees around CAN$15. The current law is that pedestrians must cross at the crosswalk where one is provided, however, mid-block crossings are legal in Ontario.[45]


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 curb, to discourage pedestrians from crossing the road.[citation needed]

United States

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 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 which 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.[46]

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; where 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 in reducing the incidence of illegal or reckless pedestrian crossings.[citation needed]

At a signalized 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; the pedestrian is usually considered to be "jaywalking" only if he entered the crosswalk at some other time. The meanings of pedestrian signal indications are summarized in Section 4E.02 of the national Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.[47]

Jaywalking is considered an infraction, but in some jurisdictions, it is a misdemeanor or requires a court appearance.[citation needed] The penalty is usually a fine. In some cities (e.g. New York City, Chicago, and Boston), although prohibited, "jaywalking" behavior has been so commonplace 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 U.S. cities found fines ranging from US$1 to US$1,000.[48]

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.[49]

Jaywalking at a signalized intersection may carry higher fines in some jurisdictions due to disobeying the signalized 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.

Safety considerations in the United States

In the United States, jaywalking is linked to pedestrian injuries and fatalities,[50] although no available data provide an exact risk rate due to missing jaywalking frequency data.[51]

In the United States, jaywalking is mainly an urban issue (71%), but can also be a suburban or rural issue when no pavement is available.[52]

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).[53]

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.[54]

Some pedestrian factors which led to a jaywalking behavior have been considered: 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.[55]

South America


In Brazil, it is illegal to cross the road if the nearest zebra crossing is in a 50-meter vicinity, Any crossing above that distance is legal. Pedestrians have priority over cars. According to CONTRAN resolution 706/17 from April 25, 2018, violators could pay a fine up to R$ 44,19; however, this measure is rarely enforced.[56]


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 outside of major commercial hubs such as Singapore (below). In many countries such as India or Vietnam it is quite common, given the level of traffic, that pedestrians will walk out into oncoming traffic and effectively "carve out" a route to the other side of the road.[citation needed]


Fences, like here in Beijing, deter jaywalkers from crossing 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, and water cannons to stop them.[57][58]


In India, jaywalking is not exclusively included in the law as an offense, 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.[59] Despite this, jaywalking is common in cities due to lack of regulated crossings and footpaths and poor regulation of related laws by authorities.[60] Anti-jaywalking drives are conducted by the police departments from time to time and offenders are penalized with fines of ₹100 to ₹500 depending upon the jurisdictions.[61][62][63] Drivers have to yield the right of way for pedestrians at unsignalized crossings and marked pedestrian crossings.[64][65]


In Iran jaywalking is illegal. One may cross only at recognized crossing points if there is one within 150 m. Regarding to Traffic laws, jaywalking and crossing when a pedestrian light is red or to start walking when it is flashing is prohibited from the 1970s. If in an intersection there is no pedestrian light, traffic lights would be considered, so it would be illegal when it is red or orange. As of November, 2009, jaywalking carries fines from 300,000 up to 2,000,000 Ir-Rials (US$9 to US$60). The law has almost never been enforced.[66][67]


A "No Jaywalking" sign from Singapore

In Singapore jaywalking is an offence. A fine of S$20 is payable for the first offence. Repeat offenders can be charged $1000 and a jail term of 3 months though it is rarely imposed.[68] In 2011, 8,650 people were caught jaywalking and fined in Singapore.[69][dead link] Between January and March 2012, Singapore prosecuted 1,758 for jaywalking while between January and March 2013, 2,409 jaywalkers were fined.[70]



In Australia, it is illegal to start crossing the road at an intersection when a pedestrian light is red or flashing red.[71] 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).[72]

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 traversing them.[73] States set their own fines for jaywalking, for example AU$50 in Western Australia.[74]

New Zealand

Pedestrians in New Zealand must, where possible, cross at right angles to the kerb or side of the roadway when not using pedestrian crossings or school crossing points.[75] Pedestrians are obliged to use a pedestrian crossing, footbridge, underpass or traffic signal only if they are available within 20 metres.[76] At intersections controlled by signals, pedestrians should wait for the green man to display, and are not allowed to begin crossing when either the static or flashing red man is displayed.[77] The fine for jaywalking is up to NZ$35.[78]



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 provisions of the new Highway Code. The code also deal with all road users, unlike in the past when it emphasized on rules for motorists and cyclists.[79]

See also


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Further reading

External links