What Is The Legal Definition Of Jaywalking?

Most of us know to be careful when we venture into a new city. The people who live there are almost always kind enough to give us a head’s up: will the local law enforcement care if we cross the street if there’s no marked crosswalk? In some cities it’s a common practice to ticket someone for jaywalking, while in others it isn’t. It’s especially easy to ticket a tourist jaywalker because you know they’re unlikely to show up to defend the ticket in court three months later.

Jaywalking means that a person has crossed a street where a crosswalk and/or traffic light is available without using either for assistance. This is considered reckless behavior and represents a misdemeanor in most jurisdictions. On top of that, the jaywalker may be civilly liable for any injuries that result from the unlawful street crossing because of the technical negligence.

This is one of the least respected laws on the books, but there is significant reason to give pause when crossing the street: new technologies are making it easier than ever to locate, ticket, and even blacklist tourist offenders. Beijing in particular is considering the implementation of facial recognition technology to catch tourists in the act. It might seem silly, but the sheer number of tourists has resulted in lots of unruly behavior, and Chinese officials want to do something about it.

In the United States, a pedestrian cannot be ticketed if there are no traffic lights or crosswalks available unless the street crossing was blatantly reckless because of heavy traffic. Officers and pedestrians are sometimes both confused about the presence of “unmarked” crosswalks, though, which can become a pain for everyone if the rare jaywalking ticket is written.

Technically, a crosswalk exists at any street intersection whether specifically marked or not. While it may seem less safe to cross at an intersection where you have to take into consideration the traffic flow from all four directions — as opposed to crossing a single street after looking both ways — legally you still have to cross at the intersection to avoid the ticket. 

Unmarked crosswalks therefore exist in locations where the flow of pedestrian traffic is uncontrolled. In these locations there won’t be any “walk” or “don’t walk” light, which means the burden is on the pedestrian to take extra care. If you are stopped or ticketed after trying to cross the street at an intersection, you can likely get the ticket to go away if you show up in court to fight it. Contact a traffic lawyer to make sure that the intersection did not specifically restrict pedestrian crossings.