Road Laws Across the Globe – A Closer Look at “jaywalking”

A “jaywalking” guide for Brits traveling abroad.

Across the globe, several countries are enforcing fines for “jaywalking” in a bid to deter members of the public from not using designated crossings. It is important to know about jaywalking, as many Brits wrongly think that as they can cross the road anywhere in the UK, they can do the same when abroad.

The concept was first introduced in the US in 1920, following the use of the term ‘jay walker’- meaning an empty headed chatterbox who is not paying attention to where they are going, and generally getting in the way of other shoppers. The phrase was quickly adopted to describe irresponsible people who risked their lives in front of oncoming traffic to cross the road. Jaywalking in the US is still illegal, with vehicle codes stating that pedestrians must not cross the road when a “don’t walk” or upraised hand symbol is displayed, nor should they cross between controlled intersections. 

America is not alone in enforcing jaywalking laws, with fines being issued to members of the public not using crossings in China also. Fines can be anything from £115-150 to prevent pedestrians from risking their lives and the lives of other motorists, and are usually mainly implemented in areas with known issues of repeated jaywalking.

The History of Jaywalking

The jaywalking term stems from a pivotal moment when over 40,000 Cincinnati citizens signed a petition to limit the speeds of cars. This is a problem across the globe. As a result the motor industry desperately sought to reverse their bad press and attempted to point the finger of blame for multiple accidents to careless pedestrians rather than careless motorists. Even going so far as to using local scout groups to hand out jaywalking flyers to members of the public if anyone was seen to be crossing carelessly. Within weeks, the local rags had gotten wind of the campaign and before long, traffic accident facts and figures were public property and towns and cities had little choice but to implement anti jaywalking rules and regulations by the 1930s. Read more about jaywalking from BBC news here.

Although many countries have followed America’s lead, there are far too many that desperately need to increase regulations regarding the use of roads and pavements by pedestrians, such as Cairo in Egypt or the Indian city of Calcutta where people have a complete disregard for the dangers of oncoming traffic. So what about the UK?

The UK is among the few countries where jaywalking is still not regarding as an offence, and interestingly the rate of pedestrian accidents and injuries in our country is actually half that in the US. Brits don’t even consider where we can and can’t cross the road, and it doesn’t seem to be a priority of the Government’s to consider enforcing any laws, probably because road crossing is not seen as a major issue in the UK.

Traffic in the UK

UK Citizens living in larger cities typically favour walking or cycling as their preferred mode of transport, to avoid the traffic congestion, and many city dwellers may choose to dispose of their car altogether.

With the Metro, London Underground and Subway, pedestrians rarely need to venture out in a vehicle, so to save money on car tax, fuel and insurance, not to mention the potential service bills to maintain a car, motorists are opting to scrap their faithful four wheels with a reputable salvage yard in favour of public transport. The congestion charge in London has also helped encourage motorists to scrap their car.