Is Jaywalking Still a Crime?

You're in a rush and don't want to head all the way to the crosswalk to cross the street. The store you need is directly across the street — not anywhere near the intersection — so you go ahead and cross when traffic is clear. What you’ve just done is jaywalked and it’s probably illegal, but why? The earliest mention of jaywalking was in 1905, when it used to described poor sidewalk manners. During that time, pedestrians outnumbered drivers and resented being displaced to the sidewalks. This phase lasted well into the 1920s, when the automobile industries lobbied to design cities to be more car-friendly and make jaywalking a crime. Crosswalks were added to the streets in 1911, and laws against jaywalking were widespread by the 1930s. These days, if you're hit while jaywalking, your rights as a pedestrian vary from state to state. Most states view the situation differently depending on whether the pedestrian was in a "controlled" crossing, with a crosswalk, or an "uncontrolled" crossing, with no markings or signals. Further complicating matters, traffic signals don't always have the same meaning in every state, and some states have local "distracted walking" laws that let law enforcement issue citations for offenses such as texting while crossing an intersection. Then there are states like Michigan that have no statewide crosswalk laws at all, leaving it up to cities and towns to write and communicate their own regulations. So when you're behind the wheel, how do you keep up with all the laws? Well, consider that old mantra you might have learned way back in drivers' education: The "right of way is something you give, not take."