Lie — Jaywalking is dangerous

The Story

We've been told all our lives that jaywalking is dangerous. Always cross at an intersection.

In many cities, crossing anywhere other than an intersection is illegal, a finable offence.



Jaywalking is generally defined as crossing a road where and when one does not have the right of way. For our purposes, we'll further restrict it by excluding situations where one does not even have a right to cross (e.g. against a red light). Jaywalking means crossing a road in the middle of a block.

Crossing at an intersection

When a pedestrian crosses a road at an intersection, the pedestrian has right of way over opposing traffic, which has a red light, a stop sign, or some other explicit indication that they must yield to pedestrians.

Under such circumstances, most pedestrians assume that their having right of way means that they will be safe crossing the road, and they do so without much thought or observation, especially those staring into their personal electronic devices. It is these people that are involved with collisions most often, even though they were not at fault.

Other pedestrians are more careful, observing traffic to ensure that not only do they have the right to cross, conflicting traffic is aware of this and aware that they are there. These people tend not to be involved with collisions, but the continual shoulder checks require effort and can be stressful.

Typically vehicles can conflict with pedestrians in intersections from four different directions. That at least one of these directions might be illegal, and the others violate the pedestrian's right of way, is of little consolation.

Crossing in mid-block

Obviously one should not attempt crossing in the middle of a block when there is heavy traffic. There must be sufficiently large breaks in the packets of traffic to allow safe passage without interfering with the right of way of any of the vehicles.

But if done properly, crossing in mid-block has several advantages for the pedestrian.

  • Pedestrians take responsibility for their own safety; they do not rely on the judgement of drivers, some of whom may very well be impaired or unaware of their presence.
  • The pedestrian does not have the false feeling of safety provided by having the right of way; the pedestrian must yield to and not interfere with conflicting traffic, which does have the right of way.
  • The pedestrian is forced to pay careful attention to traffic, and to cross only when the way is clear.
  • And there are only two directions in which to check for traffic, not four.


Jaywalking pedestrians are responsible for using their own judgement, but some not-so-responsible pedestrians will attempt crossing without paying appropriate attention. Some will even deliberately interfere with the right of way that belongs to the traffic, not to them.

Unless there is a collision, it can be difficult for police and courts to determine whether a jaywalker was doing so properly or was failing to yield to traffic.

Saying Always cross at an intersection is easy. It's a simple rule, and in most cases it works. But that doesn't mean that it's the safest way to cross the street.