Sign prohibiting jaywalking in Singapore's Orchard Road

Jaywalking is an informal term used to refer to illegal or reckless pedestrian crossing of a roadway. Examples include a pedestrian crossing between intersections (outside a crosswalk, marked or unmarked) without yielding to drivers and starting to cross a crosswalk at a signalized intersection without waiting for a permissive indication to be displayed. In the United States, state statutes generally reflect the Uniform Vehicle Code in requiring drivers to yield the right of way to a pedestrians at crosswalks; at other locations, crossing pedestrians are either required to yield to drivers or, under some conditions, are prohibited from crossing.

The United Kingdom does not formally describe priority regulations for drivers and pedestrians at road junctions or other locations, except with respect to marked Zebra, Pelican, and Puffin crossings, where pedestrians have "precedence" under defined conditions[1]. Elsewhere, the Highway Code relies on the expectation that pedestrians in the process of crossing at (unmarked) road junctions should have priority, as a matter of common courtesy.

Jaywalking tends to be a legal offense only in industrialised countries with large vehicular traffic volume and (often) sidewalks. In undeveloped countries, particularly in areas without sidewalks, pedestrians may often use the roadway at will.

According to one historian, the earliest known use of the word jaywalker in print was in the Chicago Tribune in 1909.[2] (The earliest citation in the Oxford English Dictionary is from 1917.) The term's dissemination was due in part to a deliberate effort by promoters of automobiles, such as local auto clubs and dealers, to redefine streets as places where pedestrians do not belong.[3]

Origin of the term

The word jaywalk is a compound word derived from the word jay, an inexperienced person, and walk.[4] No historical evidence supports an alternative folk etymology by which the word is traced to the letter "J" (characterizing the route a jaywalker might follow).

In towns in the American Midwest in the early 20th century, "jay" was a synonym for "rube", a pejorative term for a rural resident, assumed by many urbanites to be stupid or slightly unintelligent. Such a person did not know to keep out of the way of other fellow pedestrians and speeding automobiles.[5] Originally, the legal rule was that "all persons have an equal right in the highway, and that in exercising the right each shall take due care not to injure other users of the way."[6] In time, however, streets became the province of motorized traffic, both practically and legally. Automobile interests took up the cause of labeling and scorning jaywalkers in the 1910's and early 1920's; a counter-campaign to name (and disapprove of) "jay drivers" failed.[7]

Legal issues

When used in the technical sense, jaywalking specifically refers to violation of pedestrian traffic regulations and laws and is therefore illegal.

In many countries such regulations do not exist and jaywalking is an unknown concept.

United Kingdom

In England and Wales it is legal to cross all roads except motorways, where pedestrians and slow vehicles are not permitted. The Highway Code contains additional rules for crossing a road safely,[8] but these are recommendations and not legally enforceable, although as with other advisory parts of the Highway Code compliance or otherwise can be used to establish liability in civil law proceedings such as insurance claims.[9] The term "jaywalking" is little used and not very well known, except amongst some young people from American TV.

The Highway Code specifically mentions the special case of a car turning into a road which a pedestrian is already crossing; by default, the pedestrian has priority. [10]

In UK schools children are taught to cross roads safely through the Green Cross Code. British children are taught to "Stop, Look, Listen and Think", before crossing a road.

In Northern Ireland jaywalking can be charged at police discretion and usually only in the case of an accident when clearly witnessed. Otherwise, Northern Ireland is essentially the same as elsewhere in the UK.

North America

State and provincial road rules in the United States and Canada typically require a driver to yield the right of way to a pedestrian crossing a road when the pedestrian crosses at a marked crosswalk or an unmarked (but not closed[clarification needed]) crosswalk. Unmarked crosswalks generally exist as the logical extensions of sidewalks at intersections with approximately right angles. Following the Uniform Vehicle Code, state codes often do not prohibit a pedestrian to cross a roadway between intersections if at least one of the two adjacent intersections is not controlled by a signal, but stipulate that a pedestrian not at a crosswalk must yield the right of way to approaching drivers. State codes often permit pedestrians to use roads which are not controlled access facilities and without sidewalks but they must keep to the leftmost side of the road unless this renders them invisible to approaching traffic.

1937 WPA poster warning pedestrians not to jaywalk

State codes may include provisions that allow local authorities to prohibit pedestrian crossing at locations outside crosswalks, but since municipal pedestrian ordinances are often not well known to drivers or pedestrians, and can vary from place to place in a metropolitan area that contains many municipalities, obtaining compliance with local prohibitions of pedestrian crossings much more restrictive than statewide pedestrian regulations can be difficult. Signs, fences, and barriers of various types (including planted hedges) have been used to prohibit and prevent pedestrian crossing at some locations; where detour to a legal crossing would be highly inconvenient, even fences are sometimes not effective. Street design, traffic design, and locations of major building entrances that make crosswalks the most logical and practical locations to cross streets are usually more effective than police enforcement in reducing the incidence of illegal or reckless pedestrian crossings.

At a signalized crossing, a pedestrian is subject to the applicable pedestrian traffic signal or, if no pedestrian signal is displayed, the signal indications for the parallel vehicular movement. A pedestrian signal permits a pedestrian to begin crossing a street during the "Walk" display; the pedestrian is usually considered to be "jaywalking" only if he entered the crosswalk at some other time. The meanings of pedestrian signal indications are summarized in Section 4E.02 of the national Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. [11]

Jaywalking is commonly considered an infraction but in some jurisdictions it is a misdemeanor or requires a court appearance. The penalty is usually a fine. In some cities (e.g. New York City), although prohibited, "jaywalking" behavior has been so commonplace that police generally cite or detain jaywalkers only if their behavior is considered excessively dangerous or disruptive. Penalties for jaywalking vary by state or province and, within a state, may vary by county or municipality. In Tempe, Arizona, as of June 2006 jaywalking carried fines up to US$118; a sampling of other U.S. cities found fines ranging from US$1 [12] to US$750.


In Australia it is illegal to start crossing the road at an intersection when a pedestrian light is red or flashing red. If no such pedestrian light exists, the traffic lights are used, making it illegal to proceed on green or orange. Furthermore it is illegal to cross any road within 20 metres of an intersection with pedestrian lights or within 20 meters of any pedestrian crossing (including a zebra crossing, school crossing or any other pedestrian crossing). However laws against jaywalking are rarely enforced, with the exception of the occasional police 'blitz' on jaywalking for a week or so at a time, when the laws are enforced more stringently. Some roads, such as roads with a record of pedestrian accidents, feature fences in their centres to discourage pedestrians, but there is no law against traversing them.[13]

New Zealand

In New Zealand, pedestrians can be fined NZD 35 for crossing a road without using a marked crossing if there is one within 20 meters, or crossing at a red light.[citation needed]


Singapore has arguably the harshest punishment for jaywalking[citation needed]. First offenses may go for up to SGD 500 (USD 370), as well as up to three months in jail. Repeat offenders may receive a SGD 2000 fine, and up to five to six months imprisonment[14].


In many areas, jaywalking has become commonplace and continues to increase [citation needed]. This can be attributed to many factors, including vehicles parked on the sidewalk and road works.

In some areas, roads have become actively unfriendly to pedestrians, with long gaps between intersections with crosswalks.[citation needed] Some four-way intersections feature fewer than four crosswalks, forcing pedestrians to make three crossings instead of one in order to remain legal. In these situations, jaywalking may occur out of inconvenience, annoyance, or active protest.[citation needed]

In some cases, jaywalkers are engaging in a minor form of civil disobedience. These individuals cite further ways in which roads have become less pedestrian-friendly, including reduced or removed lighting at night, and the removal of sidewalks on one or both sides of the road. To them, jaywalking is a means of expressing their discontent with the road system and its lack of consideration for non-vehicular traffic.[citation needed] In 2005 Tempe, Arizona, was the site of a mass jaywalking protest as hundreds of protesters led by Kaveh Sanaei walked back and forth across the main street during rush hour in protest of the removal of street lamps. In response the city government imposed higher jaywalking fines to raise revenue for street lamps.[citation needed]


Jaywalking is generally safest in quiet residential neighbourhoods, where cars travel slowly and stop frequently, and drivers are accustomed to dealing with crossing pedestrians. In some quieter neighbourhoods, the road and sidewalk are interchangeable for pedestrians; they may make long diagonal crossings in the absence of traffic, or walk entirely on the road for many reasons, including poor sidewalk conditions (e.g. snow). Traffic laws regarding pedestrians in these areas are largely ignored in favour of mutual respect, with pedestrians making room for cars, and cars making wide arcs to give pedestrians a comfortable margin.

Some supporters of jaywalking argue that on certain streets, jaywalking can be safer than crossing properly at an intersection. When a pedestrian crosses at an intersection, there is traffic going three or more different directions, with four directions being standard in almost all cases. Vehicles may go straight, or they may turn left or right across the pedestrian's path. This is typically at high speed, sometimes without signalling, and sometimes while running red lights at even higher speeds. However, drivers may be more likely to expect pedestrians at a corner than in the middle of the block.

In the middle of the block, cars are traveling in only two directions. If there is a raised median in the centre of the road, traffic is further reduced to one direction during each stage of the crossing. The pedestrian must only monitor one or two directions and can easily see and track all oncoming traffic. Once a break forms in the traffic, the pedestrian can cross, with little or no risk of being hit by an unseen vehicle.

Variants of this argument exist. In downtown Montreal, independent of the above argument, some also claim that it can be safer to cross at a crosswalk when the light is red. They argue that many local drivers practice very aggressive driving habits; in particular, that they have a tendency to turn right at high speed, without consideration for crossing pedestrians.[citation needed] However, right turns on a red light are illegal on all of the island, so a pedestrian crossing against the light has little risk of being hit by a car approaching from behind and turning right.


  1. ^ [1] The Zebra, Pelican and Puffin Pedestrian Crossings Regulations and General Directions 1997.
  2. ^ [2] Peter D. Norton, "Street Rivals: Jaywalking and the Invention of the Motor Age Street," Technology and Culture 48 (April 2007), 331-359 (342).
  3. ^ [3] Norton, "Street Rivals."
  4. ^ The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. Fourth Edition, 2000.
  5. ^ A history of “jaywalking”. February 1, 2009, citing Peter D. Norton, Fighting Traffic MIT, 2008, pp. 72-79.
  6. ^ Miller McClintock for the Chicago Association of Commerce, “Report and Recommendations of the Metropolitan Street Traffic Survey”, p. 133, quoted by Norton, Fighting Traffic, on p. 289.
  7. ^ Norton, Fighting Traffic, pp. 79-79.
  8. ^ 1-35: Rules for pedestrians : Directgov - Travel and transport
  9. ^ "Road Traffic Act 1988 (c.52), s.38(7)". Office of Public Sector Information. Retrieved 3 August 2006. ((cite web)): Check date values in: |accessdate= (help); Unknown parameter |dateformat= ignored (help)
  10. ^ Road Junctions
  11. ^ [4] Part 4, Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, Federal Highway Administration, 2003.
  12. ^ Boston
  13. ^ http://www.qmtlaw.com.au/content/Document/Consumer_Law_Alert_November_2006.pdf
  14. ^ Singapore lists jaywalking as a punishable offence

See also