Crosswalks & Jaywalkers: Can Massachusetts Law Catch Up?

You may be surprised to find out that in Massachusetts the current fine for breaking pedestrian traffic laws, commonly known as jaywalking, is $1.00 for a first, second or third offense and $2.00 for a fourth and subsequent offense, the same fines established when the law was originally enacted in 1962. However, that may soon change as the Legislature considers a bill, introduced in February 2016, to raise the fines to $25.00 for an initial offense, $50.00 for the second and $75.00 for the third. Although unrelated, the bill seems particularly timely with the advent of the augmented reality game Pokemon Go that has reportedly resulted in an increase in distracted pedestrians and drivers, a dangerous combination.

The bill’s proponents argue that the current jaywalking law is simply not enforced, and increased fines would encourage enforcement and compliance, resulting in fewer accidents and greater pedestrian safety. Opponents contend that drivers are in the best position to avoid accidents by observing existing traffic laws, and that placing the burden on pedestrians is unfair because the fines would not be uniformly administered and pedestrian access to the roads is already greatly restricted. Prior to the emergence of the motor vehicle, pedestrians, carts, horses and other travelers all shared the street equally. Although now there is no question that drivers believe they own the road, pedestrians, which include any persons in or on a conveyance, other than a bicycle, propelled by human power (eg. skateboards and scooters) as well as persons on foot, do have clear rights of access.

By statute, when traffic control signals are not in place, a vehicle must yield the right of way to a pedestrian crossing within a crosswalk “if the pedestrian is on that half of the traveled part of the way on which the vehicle is traveling” or is approaching from and less than ten feet away from the opposite half.  Additionally, a driver may not pass any vehicle stopped on either side of a crosswalk to permit a pedestrian to cross, and a driver may not enter a crosswalk while a pedestrian is crossing, notwithstanding that a traffic control signal may indicate that vehicles may proceed. A driver also may not stop on a crosswalk. Violation of any of these provisions carries a $200.00 fine. A violation of the statute may also be used in a personal injury action as evidence of negligence.

Furthermore, if a pedestrian is injured by a motor vehicle in a crosswalk, the police are required to conduct an investigation into the cause of the injury, whether there was a violation of law, and must issue a citation, if appropriate. Pedestrians walking along a roadway also have the right of way and approaching and passing vehicles must slow, allow plenty of room and pass only when there is sufficient room to do so safely.  For safety, pedestrians should walk facing traffic.

Whether you’re a pedestrian or driver, even if you know the rules of the road, the best way to keep safe is to stay alert and always proceed with caution.

Contact Attorney Bob Allison if you were injured in a pedestrian accident.  You may call him at 978-740-9433 or fill out an online contact form.  We will set up a free consultation with you to discuss your case.