CA Revamps Jaywalking Law: Can You Beat the Countdown?

CA Revamps Jaywalking Law: Can You Beat the Countdown?

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Jaywalking laws have a history of less than a century in the United States.[1] The term “jaywalking” itself is defined differently across jurisdictions,  frequently covering scenarios in which a pedestrian’s actions may not seem illegal. For example, in California, stepping into the crosswalk after the countdown has begun is an infraction, even if there is enough time to cross the road. But changed on January 1, 2018:[2] Governor Jerry Brown recently signed Assembly Bill No. 390,[3] which makes it legal to enter the crosswalk after the countdown signal has begun.[4] The bill was introduced by Assembly member Miguel Santiago and was passed by the California State Assembly and Senate unanimously despite the California Highway Patrol’s opposition.[5]

Previously, California Vehicle Code §21456(b) did not allow pedestrians to cross the roadway when either a flashing or steady “DON’T WALK” or “WAIT” symbol was showing.[6] This means that when a pedestrian sees a “DON’T WALK” symbol coupled with a countdown signal, she should avoid crossing the street even when there would be enough time to do it.[7] Not surprisingly, many pedestrians did not know about this law, and some learned about it the hard way—when they were cited for jaywalking.[8] The penalty for jaywalking in California can reach up to $250.[9] Fortunately for pedestrians, the recent amendments will reduce the situations in which they can be cited for jaywalking; studies have shown that when there is a countdown, pedestrians are more likely to start crossing the road than when there is a flashing symbol without a countdown.[10]

AB 390 amends Veh. C. §21456(b) by distinguishing flashing and steady crossing symbols, further differentiating between the flashing symbols themselves. In particular, if the “DON’T WALK” or “WAIT” symbols are flashing, pedestrians can enter the crosswalk provided that there is also a countdown signal indicating the time left for crossing.[11] Meanwhile, the same flashing symbols without a countdown have the same effect as steady ones—pedestrians cannot legally cross the roadway when these symbols are displayed.[12] Thus, this change allows those who can adequately judge their ability to cross the road to avoid citations, while still targeting the ones who step into the street under the risk of seeing the steady hand symbol after a couple of seconds.

In Texas, the law on ”pedestrian control signals” is less nuanced. Texas Transportation Code §552.002 simply states that a “pedestrian may not start to cross a roadway in the direction of a “DON’T WALK” signal or a “WAIT” signal.”[13]


(a)  A pedestrian control signal displaying “Walk,” “Don’t Walk,” or “Wait” applies to a pedestrian as provided by this section.

(b)  A pedestrian facing a “Walk” signal may proceed across a roadway in the direction of the signal, and the operator of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to the pedestrian.

(c)  A pedestrian may not start to cross a roadway in the direction of a “Don’t Walk” signal or a “Wait” signal.  A pedestrian who has partially crossed while the “Walk” signal is displayed shall proceed to a sidewalk or safety island while the “Don’t Walk” signal or “Wait” signal is displayed.[14]

Thus, the law does not differentiate between steady and flashing signals or mention the countdown signal. Consequently, in Texas, as in California as of 2017, crossing the roadway is not legal unless the pedestrian is facing a walk signal. Considering that there have been complaints about police issuing jaywalking citations in Texas,[15] the relevant Transportation Code sections may be amended in a future legislative session.

[1] Aidan Lewis, Jaywalking: How the Car Industry Outlawed Crossing the Road, BBC, Feb. 12, 2014.

[2] Doug Smith, Jaywalk No More: New Law Ends Penalty for Crossing Street During Signal Countdown, Los Angeles Times, Oct. 5, 2017.

[3] Assem. Bill No. 390 (2017-2018 Reg. Sess).

[4] Id.

[5] James W Jakobs, New California Law Means No More Jaywalking Tickets During Countdown, ABC 30, Oct. 3, 2017.

[6] Cal. Veh. Code § 21456(b).

[7] Jakobs, New California Law Means No More Jaywalking Tickets During Countdown.

[8] L.A.’s Over-the-Line Crackdown on Jaywalking, Los Angeles Times, Dec. 18, 2013.

[9] Jakobs, New California Law Means No More Jaywalking Tickets During Countdown.

[10] See L.A.’s Over-the-Line Crackdown on Jaywalking.

[11] AB 390.

[12] Id.

[13] Tex. Transp. Code §552.002.

[14] Id.

[15] See, e.g., Ken Kalthoff, Dallas Jaywalking Crackdown Draws Complaints, NBC 5, May 29, 2013.