Monday, 7 September 2009

In defence of jaywalking

As any Facebook friends will know, last week I had an encounter with the Australian nanny state that left me pretty pissed off. What happened? Well, I crossed a road, having checked both ways for traffic and making sure it was safe. But oh no, that’s not good enough here:

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.

Two policemen stopped me and advised me that I’d broken the law and were about to slap a $60 fine on me. Thankfully I managed to plead ignorance – and my accent helped! But it really infuriated me. Apparently the laws are very rarely enforced here, apart from occasional 'crackdowns' which are obviously just a revenue-raising exercise. Talk about a tax on common sense.

I can’t find any evidence anywhere that “jaywalking” leads to increased accidents or injuries to pedestrians or that countries that have anti-jaywalking laws have lower injury or death rates. But intuitively it seems to me that if you take away people’s right to make an informed judgment of speed and distance, then they’re going to lose those skills pretty quickly (or indeed, may never develop them). And if you treat people like idiots, they tend to act like them.


Will B said...

My hunch would be that when drivers think pedestrians might walk out into the road, they drive more slowly and carefully.

There's some research about drivers' reactions to increased numbers of cyclists on the roads where a similar effect was observed - i.e. drivers changed their behaviour so the chance of a bike being in an accident actually dropped.

I think in town centres and residential areas there should be a presumption of pedestrian priority.

stephen70 said...


your not the only one who thinks the nammy state laws are going to far - there is a solution in the next election vote for the LDP Liberal Democracy Party

Unlike Labour they don't believe common sense should be a criminal offence.

LDP link

Anonymous said...

You should take a look at voting for common sense i just found this site. The ALP Labour party seem interested in creating a nanny state where using common sense is treated as a criminal offence and excuse for revenue raising b the police.


Anonymous said...

I have just moved to Brisbane, Australia from the UK and have just been fined $40 for crossing the road on a red light. Never mind the fact that I am new in this city, did not know it was law and that it was a one way street & not a single car was in sight for over 800m (including parked cars) - there is just no common sense to this at all. I even asked the policeman if there was any element of risk or danger in what i did at all and he would not answer, just told me it is illegal. I then asked whether if a law is completely incorrect and unjust it should be enforced - he did not answer. Money generation is the only reason they are doing this. Welcome to Australia - the biggest nanny state on the planet!