Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Jay Walking Definition:

Violation of traffic regulations, particularly when crossing a street or road other than at an intersection, or failure to used designated pedestrian crosswalks or to obey pedestrian traffic signals.

Spelled jaywalking and also jay walking.

A pedestrian who crosses a street at a point where there is no designated crosswalk, without proper regard for, or careless as to vehicle traffic, without abiding by traffic signalization, and usually, but not necessarily, diagonally.

It usually also included disobeying a DON'T WALK signal.

jaywalkingAt common law, a pedestrian may generally cross a street anywhere except where doing so creates a hazard for themselves or a vehicle.  But there are statutory exceptions, especially in urban areas, most notably where a pedestrian finds himself or herself between two adjacent intersections that are both controlled by a traffic light; then the pedestrian is required to cross at the intersection or would be jay-walking.

This is from a Oregon City, Oregon, jay-walking ordinance (Ordinance #1349, January 7, 1948):

"Jay walking: it shall be unlawful for any pedestrian to cross any of the streets in Oregon City, at any other place than the regular intersection crossing in line with the property line of said street, upon an area which would be covered by the sidewalk if extended."

Garner's dictionary used these words to describe a jaywalker:

"Jaywalker: a pedestrian who crosses a street without heeding traffic regulations, began as an early 20th-century Americanism... In the 1910s, jay was slang term meaning a stupid, silly person; a simpleton and at about that time jaywalker and ... jaywalk came to refer to someone stupid enough to cross streets unsafely."


  • Garner, Bryan, A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), page 477.
  • Leap v Royce, 279 P. 887 (1955)
  • Van Zante, Dirk, The Care Required of a Jaywalker, 5 Drake L. Rev. 35 (1955-1956)

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