Is It Illegal to Jaywalk in Virginia? Here’s What the Law Says

Have you ever crossed the street mid-block to save a few minutes on your walk, or darted across an intersection when the light wasn’t quite in your favor? If you answered yes, then you’ve likely jaywalked. But is jaywalking actually illegal? The answer, like many things in law, depends on where you are. In this blog post, we’ll take a deep dive into the specifics of jaywalking laws in Virginia, exploring the history, current state of the law, and the ongoing debate about pedestrian safety.

What is Jaywalking?

Jaywalking is a term used to describe a pedestrian who violates traffic laws while crossing the street. This can include crossing outside of designated crosswalks, crossing against a traffic signal, or failing to yield to oncoming traffic. It’s important to note that there’s no single, universally accepted definition of jaywalking, and the specific behaviors that constitute an offense can vary from state to state.

A Brief History of Jaywalking Laws in the United States

The concept of jaywalking emerged in the early 20th century alongside the rise of automobiles. As cities became more crowded and traffic accidents involving pedestrians increased, lawmakers sought ways to regulate pedestrian behavior and prioritize the flow of vehicle traffic. The term “jaywalker” itself is believed to have originated in the 19 jaywalking laws were often used to target and criminalize low-income people and people of color, particularly in minority neighborhoods.

Jaywalking Laws in Virginia

Before January 2021

Prior to January 2021, jaywalking in Virginia was considered a primary offense. This meant that police officers could pull over pedestrians solely for jaywalking and issue citations. The specific penalties for jaywalking could vary depending on the locality, but typically involved fines of up to $250.

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After January 2021: Decriminalization of Jaywalking

In a significant shift, Virginia decriminalized jaywalking in January 2021. This means that pedestrians can no longer be stopped by police solely for jaywalking. The law essentially treats jaywalking as a secondary offense. Police can only issue a jaywalking citation if a pedestrian is pulled over for another violation, such as public intoxication or disobeying a lawful order from a police officer.

Exceptions: When Can You Still Get a Ticket for Jaywalking in Virginia?

While getting a ticket specifically for jaywalking is unlikely in Virginia, there are still situations where pedestrians can be cited for unsafe walking behaviors. These situations include:

  • Creating a hazard: If a pedestrian’s actions create a dangerous situation for themselves or others, they can still be ticketed. This could include crossing a busy highway in the middle of traffic or darting out in front of moving vehicles.
  • Disobeying traffic signals: Even though jaywalking is no longer a primary offense, pedestrians are still required to obey traffic signals, including crosswalk signals. Disregarding a crosswalk signal can still result in a citation.
  • Pedestrian intoxication: If a pedestrian is under the influence of alcohol or drugs and their impairment is impacting their ability to walk safely, they can be ticketed.

Pedestrian Safety and the Debate Around Jaywalking Laws

The decriminalization of jaywalking in Virginia has sparked debate about pedestrian safety and the role of law enforcement.

The Risks of Jaywalking

Despite the decriminalization, it’s important to remember that jaywalking can still be dangerous. Pedestrians are much more vulnerable than cars in an accident, and jaywalking can increase the risk of being struck by a vehicle. Studies have shown that pedestrians who jaywalk are more likely to be involved in fatal accidents than those who use crosswalks.

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Arguments for Decriminalization

  • Focus on Driver Behavior: Supporters of decriminalization argue that the focus should be on holding drivers accountable for their behavior. They point out that many pedestrian accidents occur due to driver negligence, such as speeding, distracted driving, or failing to yield the right of way.
  • Racial Bias: Critics of jaywalking laws argue that they have historically been enforced disproportionately against people of color. Decriminalization helps to eliminate this potential bias.
  • Pedestrian Autonomy: Proponents also argue that adults should be trusted to make their own decisions about crossing streets, even if those decisions involve some risk. They believe pedestrians should be empowered to take responsibility for their own safety.
  • Public Health Benefits: Some studies suggest that decriminalization can encourage more walking, which has numerous health benefits. By making walking a less stressful experience, decriminalization could lead to more people choosing to walk for exercise and errands.

Arguments Against Decriminalization

Opponents of decriminalization raise several concerns:

  • Increased Pedestrian Injuries: Critics worry that decriminalization will lead to more pedestrians taking unnecessary risks and ultimately result in an increase in pedestrian injuries and fatalities.
  • Mixed Messages: Some argue that decriminalization sends a mixed message about pedestrian safety. While jaywalking tickets may be rare, the law still discourages unsafe walking behaviors.
  • Enforcement Challenges: Decriminalization can make it more difficult for law enforcement to intervene in dangerous situations involving pedestrians. For example, if a pedestrian is clearly intoxicated and attempting to jaywalk in a busy street, officers may have fewer options to prevent a potential accident.

Tips for Safe Walking in Virginia (Regardless of Jaywalking Laws)

Even though jaywalking is no longer a primary offense in Virginia, pedestrian safety remains a top priority. Here are some tips for staying safe while walking:

  • Crosswalks are Still Your Friend: While you may not get a ticket for jaywalking, crosswalks are still the safest way to cross the street. They provide designated areas for pedestrians to cross with minimal risk of conflicting with traffic. Look for marked crosswalks and use them whenever possible.
  • Be Predictable and Visible: Make sure you are visible to drivers by wearing bright clothing, especially at night. Avoid walking in traffic lanes and stay on sidewalks or shoulders whenever possible. Maintain a steady pace and avoid weaving in and out of traffic.
  • Avoid Distractions: Put down your phone and other electronic devices while walking. Distractions can make it difficult to react to changing traffic conditions and hazards.
  • Obey Traffic Signals (Even When Jaywalking): Even though jaywalking itself isn’t a primary offense, disobeying traffic signals, including crosswalk signals, is still illegal. Always wait for the pedestrian signal before crossing, even if there are no cars in sight.
  • Be Aware of Your Surroundings: Pay attention to traffic, not just your phone or music. Make eye contact with drivers when crossing at intersections and be prepared to yield if necessary.
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The decriminalization of jaywalking in Virginia represents a significant shift in how pedestrian behavior is regulated. While the law prioritizes driver safety and reduces unnecessary police interactions with pedestrians, it’s important to remember that pedestrian safety remains a shared responsibility. By following these tips and exercising common sense, walkers and drivers alike can help create a safer environment for everyone on the road.

Additional Resources


This blog post is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Always consult with an attorney for questions about specific legal matters.

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