What were they thinking?
The Legislature passed and Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill that makes it legal to jaywalk in California.
Oh, we know. The bill’s author and its supporters say jaywalking will not be really legal. It just won’t be “criminal” anymore.
It’s a distinction lost in the dense, confusing text of the law. Newspaper headlines and just about everyone are saying that as of this month, it’s legal to jaywalk in California.
Called the Freedom to Walk Act, the new law will prevent law enforcement from issuing citations to people who cross streets outside of crosswalks. There is a nuanced caveat that if a “reasonable person” should recognize it is dangerous to cross, then maybe they might get a ticket.
Don’t try to understand what that means and how law enforcement is supposed to enforce the new law. What is clear is that it will encourage people to cross streets whenever and wherever their mood strikes.
To invite this risky behavior in a state that has the most pedestrian deaths in the nation and especially in Bakersfield, which year after year ranks in the top 10 most deadly pedestrian cities in the nation, is insane.
Proponents of the Freedom to Walk Act contend California’s jaywalking law is used by police to harass minorities. They point out that more Blacks, Hispanics and other minorities, as well as the homeless and low-income people, are given expensive jaywalking tickets in flagrant disregard of anti-profiling laws.
What they don’t mention is that the same groups constitute a higher percentage of the state’s pedestrian deaths. That is because they live often in older neighborhoods that lack curbs, gutters, sidewalks and adequate street lighting. They are the most likely to be hit by vehicles.
So, instead of increasing funding to improve deadly streets, lawmakers simply put more people at risk.
Go for it. Cross anywhere you want. Forget about the risks. And the risk-taking will flow down to children, who watch adults dangerously — and often unsuccessfully — dodging cars.
Crowing that the Freedom to Walk Act means people are “reclaiming” their streets, proponents call the new law part of a nationwide trend. So, when is a trend defined as just three states — California, Nevada and Virginia — and Kansas City? Major metropolitan areas and other states are keeping jaywalking laws on their books.
Ironically, Kansas City is believed to have been the first city in the nation to make jaywalking illegal. In 1905, the Kansas City Star newspaper coined the phrase “jaywalking” — “jay” meant rube or hick. At the urging of the fledgling automobile industry, which sought to give automobiles supremacy on the roads, jaywalking laws spread across the nation.
It is true that law enforcement sometimes uses trivial laws, such as jaywalking, to harass people. But court rulings, laws and public exposure can curb this illegal profiling.
It also is true that low-income people and minorities are issued more citations, which can bury them in thousands of dollars of debt.
But the answer is equity. Make all the roads in metropolitan Bakersfield and other cities equally safe and convenient for everyone to use.
The answer is not to eliminate a law that can actually help save lives on dangerous streets.
But take comfort in the final confusing section of this new law, which requires the California Highway Patrol to report annually to the Legislature the impact of making jaywalking legal.
Every year, the CHP must count and report the number of dead and injured people lying on California streets. Will that number be more or less? Likely it will be just a number — ignored like others.
For the record, Kern County’s Republican lawmakers, Assemblyman Vince Fong and state Sen. Shannon Grove, voted against the Freedom to Walk Act. Democratic Assemblyman Rudy Salas did not vote on the bill.