Why ending jaywalking enforcement is important

Since 2021, Transportation Choices Coalition has been working on reforming harmful jaywalking laws. Last year, as part of the Free to Walk coalition, we championed legislation that would have done so, but fell short of getting it passed. The 2024 legislature recently convened for the year, bringing another opportunity to push this important reform over the finish line.

Free to Walk is a coalition of groups that know it’s time to reform how we enforce pedestrian behavior. Jaywalking enforcement does not keep people safe, has inequitable impacts, and is an inefficient use of limited police resources. Transportation Choices Coalition began hosting coalition meetings in December of 2022 and working with a contractor to analyze jaywalking enforcement data from across the state. That data showed that jaywalking enforcement disproportionately impacts Black and unhoused people, that jaywalking laws are largely used to make pretextual stops, and that many police stops lead to the use of physical force by the police. The equity implications of jaywalking enforcement make it a key mobility justice issue for our organization, which is why it’s one of our top priorities for 2023 and 2024

What’s already happened in the legislature? 

In 2023, SB 5383 was introduced by Senator Rebecca Saldaña, a former Senate Transportation Vice-Chair and one of the influencers of the Move Ahead WA transportation funding package. This bill would have fully repealed laws that make it illegal for pedestrians to cross outside of a designated crosswalk, against a signal, or walk in the street, while keeping them responsible for exercising due care for their and others’ safety. Newly elected Representative Emily Alvarado introduced the House companion bill. Both bills were heard in committee, but only the Senate bill moved forward. The Senate bill was able to make it to the Rules Committee before the legislative session ended.

Passing new legislation is always challenging, and we faced not only a steep curve for educating lawmakers, but also a controversial police pursuits bill that took a lot of wind from the sails of any other policing-related bills. Despite the Free to Walk bill not passing in 2023, it made it farther than many expected, revealed some opposition and areas where we could improve the bill, and allowed us to do significant member education.

Meanwhile, both Denver, CO and Anchorage, AK reformed their laws in 2023.

Over the interim, TCC engaged in conversations with multiple stakeholders in order to improve the likelihood of making meaningful reforms. We maintained our objective of ending harm from stops but also explored how we could address issues raised by partners, such as liability concerns, and make our bill as clear and consistent as possible. 

Moving forward with an updated bill

Based on our additional research and partner conversations, TCC explored updated bill language that more closely aligned with California’s model, changing our bill from “jaywalking is legal unless there is a danger” to “a police officer can’t stop someone for jaywalking unless there is a danger”.

This year, SB 5383 will continue, but with some changes. The bill will be brought back to the Senate Transportation Committee, where it will be amended. Here is a full list of changes we expect to see:

  • Maintains laws prohibiting pedestrians from crossing against a signal, crossing between signalized crosswalks, and walking in the roadway
  • Ends enforcement of these laws unless pedestrians move suddenly into the path of a vehicle, making it impossible for them to stop (points to existing language in RCW 46.61.235(2))
  • Does NOT end enforcement of crossing a roadway at an unmarked crosswalk where an official sign prohibits such crossing
  • Does NOT relieve a pedestrian from the duty of exercising due care for their safety or relieve a driver of a vehicle from the duty of exercising due care for the safety of any pedestrian within the roadway
  • Fully repeals a little-known law that directs pedestrians to walk in a certain direction on the roadway
  • Updates RCW to ensure pedestrians do not move into the path of a transit vehicle (in addition to cars)
  • Directs local jurisdictions to implement similar practices, to ensure consistent pedestrian experience

What’s next?

There’s more to come, including a full report from our contract researcher on the statewide jaywalking data, and some polling we did! There are many ways you can stay in touch and help out:

It’s time we reform these outdated and harmful laws, and we need your help to do it. Join us to make Washington State Free to Walk in 2024!

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