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Origin of the word: Jaywalking is a compound word. "Jay" refers to a foolish rural person who is unfamiliar with city ways.
Technically, jaywalking refers to a pedestrian who violates traffic regulations, particularly when crossing a street or road.
Under California state law, a pedestrian may generally cross a roadway anywhere along the road without jaywalking. But there are exceptions. Here are the main exceptions:
Classic Jaywalking: If you are between two adjacent intersections that are both controlled by "traffic control signal devices" (i.e. a traffic light), then you, the pedestrian, must cross at the intersection. See California Vehicle Code §21955.
Issue: What if a person walks only part way across the street? What is he or she does not completely cross the street? Does this jaywalking statute apply and is there a violation of the statute? See sample trial brief / points and authorities relating to this narrow issue.
Local Law Traps: Local jurisdictions (cities, counties) may enact harsher laws about jaywalking. See California Vehicle Code [CVC] §§21961 and 21106.
Typically, such local laws occur in high traffic business districts. See case of Sehgal v. Knight (1967) 253 Cal. App. 2d 170.
Failure to Yield: Pedestrians generally must yield right-of-way to vehicles (which are near enough to constitute an immediate hazard) unless crossing at marked or unmarked crosswalks. (CVC §21954).
Remember, a crosswalk is not even necessarily marked by two white or yellow lines but can be unmarked. See CVC Section 275.
Failure to Obey Traffic Signal: Pedestrians must obey the instructions on any official traffic signal unless necessary to avoid a collision or other emergency. CVC §21462. Example: Violation of "don't walk" signals or signs. CVC 21456(b).
The Outer Limits of Jaywalking Laws:
Long Distance Intersections: One might ask, “What if I’m standing half-way between two adjacent intersections that are two miles apart. Do I have to walk one mile in order to cross the road at the intersection to avoid breaking the law? Technically, the answer is generally “Yes.”
Note: An attempt to limit the distance to one quarter of a mile failed to pass in the California legislature.
Alleys: What if there’s an alley (without traffic signals) between the two signal controlled intersections? An alley is a “roadway” and becomes the adjacent intersection. Therefore, you may generally cross anywhere along that roadway because the alley itself is not controlled by a traffic signal. See Vehicle Code §365 and §530. See also case of People v. Blazina (1976) 55 Cal. App. 3d Supp. 35.
Stop Signs: What if one or both adjacent intersections is controlled by a stop sign? Case law dating back to 1940 [See Quinn v. Rosenfeld (1940) 15 Cal. 2d 486 "...'stop' signs at the intersections...no[t] a 'traffic control signal device'..."] dictates that stop signs are not traffic "signal" control devices. Stop signs are, however, "official traffic control devices" [See Vehicle Code §440 and §21400], but probably not a traffic control "signal" device. Thus, in such case, you can, arguably, in most cases, cross anywhere on the road. However, be warned that it is reported that many police officers consider stop signs to be a "traffic control signal devices"; therefore, you may receive a ticket for jaywalking. If so, you will have to make legal argument (or hire an attorney to do so) and seek to convince a judge that a stop sign is not a "traffic control signal device".
The Price of Violation of Vehicle Code Section 21955 (classic jaywalking) is an infraction, not a misdemeanor. As of 2010, the fine can be as high as $191 depending where the infraction occurs.
Stop and Search: Police officers sometimes use jaywalking violations as a pretext for searching someone or questioning someone who they view as a suspicious person.
Why have such laws? Pedestrian restrictive movement laws help reduce and prevent injuries and fatalities. As motorists and pedestrians, we need to obey traffic laws that assure our safety and the safety of others.
See selected California jaywalking laws found in the California Vehicle Code.
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