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What is jaywalking?

Most state and local codes do not reference the term jaywalking; it is not officially defined. It is slang for crossing a street at a point other than an intersection or marked crosswalk, or crossing against a traffic signal indication. Jaywalking is a derogatory term, implying the pedestrian is doing something illegal, unsafe or stupid (none of which is necessarily true). People naturally cross the street when and where they see fit. The legal context and safety implications of this behavior cause confusion.

All state vehicle codes state that pedestrians may cross at a point other than a crosswalk, but must yield to traffic when doing so. Some state and local ordinances prohibit crossing away from a crosswalk between two adjacent signalized intersections, a circumstance that occurs most often in dense downtown environments. Crossing against a light is illegal, though the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices may change its recommendation for pedestrian countdown signals to allow pedestrians to start crossing when the flashing red hand is showing, as long they clear the roadway before traffic in the opposite direction proceeds.

The safety issues are equally misunderstood. In some instances it may be safer to cross away from an intersection, which gives a pedestrian the benefit of fewer conflicts with turning motor vehicles — the source of most crashes at signalized intersections. Ironically, crossing against the light is often done, as pedestrians look at traffic and wait for a gap. Pedestrians crossing with the light rarely look at traffic even though they are susceptible to being hit by turning vehicles and red light runners.

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