["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published February 13, 2023] 2023
Every once in a while, I truly despair of law makers. The new law decriminalization jaywalking that went into effect on January 1 comes under that category.
On January 2, as I was driving through downtown La Jolla, people were literally walking in front of my car. It was like, “Woo-hee! We don’t even have to look both ways anymore!” It seemed as if they were going to jaywalk just because they could.
If those people knew how old I was and that my reflexes are failing, never mind that my 2005 Corolla doesn’t have one of those automatic stop features, they might have reconsidered. News flash: there are no lack of us oldies in La Jolla. Running over people is very high on seniors’ Worst Fear list, just below going to a dementia facility, and just above learning your husband has absconded to the Caymans with the 21-year-old care giver.
This new law, called the the Freedom to Walk Act allows a “reasonably careful person” (is that an oxymoron?) to cross without being in a crosswalk. If there are any reasonably careful persons crossing the street in San Diego, especially in the summer months when we’re chock full of tourists, I don’t know who they are. One can’t help but notice even before this law that summer tourists at a beach resort seem to have beamed themselves to a parallel universe where traffic laws do not apply.
At the Shores, for example, beach chair-laden visitors wander at will across busy streets against the light in front of oncoming cars. They look stunned to hear the screech of tires, a blank look crossing a puzzled face as they attempt to process what that annoying sound might have been. (Their imminent death.)
Curious to know what inspired a law that to me seems like a massive threat to public safety, I learned that the new freedom-to-jaywalk legislation was sponsored by California assembly member Phil Ting on the basis that jaywalking tickets were disproportionately given to lower-income individuals and people of color who cannot afford to pay the jaywalking fine. His data came from the California Racial and Identity Profiling Act, which showed that black individuals in California were four and a half times more likely than white Californians to be stopped by law enforcement officials for jaywalking.
I agree that’s a bad thing.
As Mr. Ting puts it – “It should not be a criminal offense to safely cross the street.” Couldn’t agree more with that too. It’s the “safely” part I’m having trouble with. As of January 1, the only time law enforcement officials will be able to write a ticket for jaywalking is when the individual causes an "immediate danger of a collision." There was nothing “safely” about the people walking in front of my car on January 2. Collisions were very much imminent. Seriously, I was terrified.
Will pedestrian deaths skyrocket with this new law? Actually, that's exactly what happened when automobiles became prominent in New York City in the 1920s, the victims disproportionately old folks and kids. The term jaywalker, originally considered an offensive term and allegedly promoted by the then-fledgling auto industry, referred to someone from the sticks who didn’t know how to walk in a city. The auto industry wanted control of the streets.
Still, it wasn't until 1958 that a New York anti-jaywalking law was finally introduced which as those of us who are former New Yorkers can attest, was instantly and roundly ignored.
In 2020, a Queens (NY) councilman attempted to introduce a bill decriminalizing jaywalking changing the law's language to "advise" pedestrians to use crosswalks and wait for the light when crossing the street. I nearly fell out of my chair laughing.
Like Prop 47, will this be a law that fixes one problem only to create a bigger one? Prop 47 increased the dollar amount from $400 to $950 by which theft can be prosecuted as a felony. It's not true that thefts under $950 (now misdemeanors) are no longer prosecuted. It just seems that way. Certainly the people looting Walmarts and CVSs in broad daylight seem to think so.
Laws preventing pedestrian free-for-alls were huge safety protections in my view. Sometimes people have to be protected from their own idiocy, which is to say, walking out in the middle of the street glued to a cell phone.
Privately, I like to think of this Freedom-to-be-Mown-Down-in-the-Middle-of-the-Street legislation as a kind of natural selection. The Serengeti has its way of culling its population. This may be ours.
Prior to Jan. 1, the big money was in getting hit in a crosswalk by a Mercedes. Your kids would be set for life. (You, not so much.) But what happens when you knock over, mid-block, one of those “reasonably careful” people who were jaywalking at least theoretically “safely”? And if there’s a cell phone next to the body? Nope, no money in it.
It's too early yet to know the full ramifications of allowing people to wander at will across streets. I would have liked to see other solutions (assuming there were some) to harassing minorities who jaywalked. But henceforth, I'm driving 5 miles per hour in La Jolla.