Under state law, it is illegal to step into a crosswalk while the countdown timer is counting-down, even if the timer shows that you have plenty of time to make it across the street before the traffic light turns red. Start crossing when the timer is counting down, and a scrupulous police officer may cite you to the tune of $197.
Well, good news: The totally bogus jaywalking tickets might become history.
Assembly Bill 390—which would update the obsolete section of California Vehicle Code that enables police to issue the sort of tickets described above—has passed both houses of the state legislature and now sits on the governor’s desk awaiting final approval.
“It doesn’t make sense to have a bogus gotcha law that continues to ticket people [while] at the same time, in LA, we’re trying to get people out of their cars,” State Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, one of the bill’s authors, tells Curbed LA. “A $200 ticket like this can be devastating for many people.”
Nearly 20,000 of these tickets were issued in and around Downtown Los Angeles between 2011 and 2015, according to KPCC. At $197 a pop, 20,000 tickets equates to about $3.9 million.
Section 21456 of the Vehicle Code, the bit of law police use to justify handing out the tickets, was written back in 1981, long before Los Angeles started widespread use of pedestrian countdown timers in 2008. The law’s language doesn't account for new signaling technology; it remains as it was during a time when a flashing “Don't Walk” sign signaled the last few seconds of a signal’s cycle.
“We are updating the law from a time when the options at a signal were ‘go’ and ‘don't go,’” Santiago says. “We updated our signals, but we never updated the law. New signals have ‘go,’ ‘countdown,’ and ‘don’t go.’ But, from the perspective of the law, the countdown portion was still considered ‘don’t go, which is illegal.’”
The assemblymember says the law’s new language would mean pedestrians would be allowed to start crossing a street while the countdown timer is counting down, so long as they can reach the other side of the street before the signal switches to a “Don’t Walk,” “Wait,” or an “Upraised Hand” symbol.
Santiago says he first became aware of the out-of-date law a couple years ago, during outcry about LAPD’s so-called “jaywalking sting” citations.
In late 2013, LAPD began a “crackdown” on jaywalking pedestrians in Downtown LA. As the department famously said at the time, “we’re heavily enforcing pedestrian violations because they’re impeding traffic and causing too many accidents and deaths."
The department’s (very dumb, but financially lucrative) crackdown became the subject of national ridicule. Even the New York Times piled on about Los Angeles’s burgeoning pedestrian culture, snarkily declaring how “the crackdown is a coming-of-age moment for this city, a ratification of how far it has come. It is a matter of simple mathematics: There are now enough people around to ticket.”
In 2015, the Los Angeles City Council produced a motion asking LAPD to explain why it continued ticketing so many pedestrians. At the time, Councilmember Mike Bonin described how “it defies common sense to ticket someone who is entering a crosswalk as the countdown begins when they still have time to cross the street safely without disrupting traffic.”
Another motion that asked the State of California to update its law followed in 2016.
As Santiago tells Curbed, “people shouldn’t be ticketed for being safe and using good judgement. The bill is a simple fix.”