San Mateo Joins Legislative Charge into ‘Jaywalking 2.0’

County Board of Supervisors Takes Victim Blaming to a New Level

Deeming, apparently, that San Mateo County isn't yet hostile enough to pedestrians, the County Supervisors want to ban texting while walking in a crosswalk. Photo taken in Millbrae by Streetsblog/Rudick
Deeming, apparently, that San Mateo County isn't yet hostile enough to pedestrians, the County Supervisors want to ban texting while walking in a crosswalk. Photo taken in Millbrae by Streetsblog/Rudick

Yesterday, the San Mateo Board of Supervisors passed a resolution that could be the first step towards a statewide ban on texting while walking in a crosswalk. The resolution, introduced by Supervisor David Canepa, “urges the state legislature to take action to promote traffic safety by prohibiting use of cell phones while crossing streets or, alternatively, giving express authority to local jurisdictions to regulate the issue.”

In other words, San Mateo County just joined the bandwagon, started by Honolulu, Stamford, Connecticut and Cleveland to further expand the definition of ‘jaywalking’ to include crossing with the right of way if you stop to check your phone.

“It’s purely dangerous to walk in a crosswalk with your cell phone,” said Bill Silverfarb, Legislative Aide to Canepa, in an interview with Streetsblog. “They’re not paying attention to their surroundings.”

Silverfarb said the resolution is in response to an uptick in pedestrian deaths in California. Around 700 pedestrians are struck by cars and killed every year in the state.

The uptick in deaths, however, is not clearly attributable to people stepping in front of moving cars while texting. What is clear, however, is that speeding and distracted driving are getting people hurt and killed all over California. Diverting police resources away from fighting those problems is not going to help. Silverfarb said enforcing existing laws about texting while driving and speeding is “not a high [police] priority–they’re busy, they have other things to do.”

He said he hopes some selective stings of people texting and crossing the street will get people to pay more attention to their surroundings. “You put police on corners and have them watch the crosswalk, if people are behaving badly you give them a warning,” he explained.

But advocates for safe streets aren’t buying it.

“When data consistently show that speeding is a leading cause of crashes, victim-blaming is neither productive nor appropriate,” said Natalie Burdick, Outreach Director for Walk San Francisco. “Lawmakers should enact legislation (like automated speed enforcement) that has been proven to both calm traffic and reduce the likelihood of deadly crashes.”

Elizabeth Stampe, a San Francisco-based advocate for sustainable transportation, agreed. “This is a misguided idea that criminalizes walking and removes responsibility from where it belongs. It’s the driver’s responsibility to make sure his car–the thousand-ton weapon he’s piloting–doesn’t hit anyone. What about people who can’t see, who can’t look up at cars? By this logic, [crossing the street while] being blind would be a crime too.”

And how will this resolution be received in the state legislature? “Distracted walking, like distracted driving, creates safety problems. However, we need to be very clear that cars, not pedestrians, are at the heart of the unacceptable number of injuries and deaths we’re experiencing on our streets,” said San Francisco State Senator Scott Wiener.

He was, however, open to discussing the idea if the fines “aren’t too high.”

Dave Campbell, Advocacy Director for Bike East Bay, said he could support the resolution if it came with a comprehensive change in safety priorities. “Every time we talk about slowing cars down in the name of safety we get a tremendous amount of push-back from elected officials who also get an earful from their constituents. We’re left with streets that aren’t safe,” he said. “”I’ll trade support for this bill for a 25 mph speed limit on every street in the state.”

Tweets to Canepa echoed these points.


Indeed, countries with the best safety records have low speed limits and engineer streets with safety as the first priority. But criminalizing walking? In the Netherlands jaywalking is not even a crime. It wouldn’t be here, either, except for America’s long history of prioritizing motoring convenience and car sales over safety (click here or watch the video at the end of this post for a primer on the history of ‘jaywalking.’) From Streetsblog’s perspective, this latest resolution is just an extension of the original jaywalking laws and are about keeping the roads clear of pesky pedestrians who inconvenience motorists.

If someone is crossing the street with the right of way in a crosswalk, it doesn’t matter whether that person is texting, talking on the phone, picking their nose, or eating a bag of wasabi chickpeas–it’s up to motorists to drive safely and stop. Victims of road violence are no more guilty for getting run over than a rape victim is for wearing a miniskirt. Trying to turn “texting while walking” into a crime is absurd and obscene.

Silverfarb, meanwhile, said they have a state legislator ready to write a bill. He declined to name that person, but it’s not hard to find a lawmaker in San Mateo who will throw safety to the curb.

Canepa, meanwhile, has a history of prioritizing motorist convenience.

  • gneiss

    Let there be no mistake, this is not a grass roots effort from safety advocates who are “just trying to keep people safe”. This is a concerted campaign from auto manufacturers, insurance companies, police departments, and industry-paid safety think tanks to further restrict the rights of people walking and limit the liability payouts to people who are currently legally walking in the crosswalks.

    As has been pointed out, these groups are using the same playbook as the previous jaywalking campaign to shame people (just look at Stanley Roberts), even going so far as to coin a cute word to describe people walking with their phones (petextrian) that they’ve injected into the Urban Dictionary.

    As to the reason why? Well, in California, there have been a number of court cases that cities have lost and been forced to settle over poorly designed crosswalk designs, the most recent one here: where San Deigo will pay $12.5 million for damages related to a crosswalk design.

    If a community can show that a person was “on their phone” and give them a citation after a collision, they can significantly reduce their liability. In addition, this give our wonderful police departments one more tool to harass and scold people walking, rather than doing the hard work of enforcing the epidemic of speeding in our communities.

  • p_chazz

    I wonder if David Canepa is related to the late automobile dealership owner Angelo Canepa or the retired professional race car driver Bruce Canepa. I seem to recall that Bruce also owned a dealership back in the day.

    If so, then he would be the scion of a family that has grown wealthy from selling and racing cars. It follows that David would not be favorably disposed to pedestrians.

  • Zharol

    Meanwhile San Mateo drivers are free to continue flouting the existing ban on driving into crosswalks without yielding; San Mateo Police are free to continue ignoring those violations; and San Mateo planners are free to continue designing unsafe crosswalks.

  • Joe Linton

    I think that all the stats on drivers hitting fixed objects (see and and ) put the victim-blaming notions to rest. The pole/building/parked-car is not at fault, nor is the pedestrian – – it’s drivers that crash into things.

  • com63

    Please include blind people in this resolution as well.

  • KJ

    Yes, just to add to the silliness of it!

  • D Man

    If the Vision Zero goal is to eliminate all traffic related deaths, then everyone needs to do their part to ensure that we avoid traffic deaths. That includes not being distracted when you walk across a street, aka common sense. Do you support Vision Zero or not?

  • D Man

    I agree Joe, there is no such thing as victim blaming. Whoever is “at fault” is the person who is at fault regardless of whether they are walking or driving.

  • D Man

    I’ve got a tinfoil hat if you need one.

  • KJ

    I walked into a signpost once while walking and having a conversation with a friend, but I don’t think talking while walking should be outlawed either. This involves the same premise. But, I am hoping that our legislators are able to realize how foolish this new law would be. It appears our Supervisors (who all voted affirming this!) are not talking to many pedestrians and listening to our real safety concerns.

  • Zharol

    Problem with this one is that rather than clamping down on the drivers putting people in danger by breaking existing laws, this resolution would allow drivers to continue breaking the law (driving into crosswalks without yielding is now close to a societal norm) and puts the burden on people walking to look out for their own safety.

    That’s the wrong answer — particularly if it emboldens drivers to blame people being hit — since laws are already in place to keep those people safe.

    Put bluntly, we don’t think it’s important to ask drivers to follow the law, police to enforce the law, or planners to safely align their designs with right of way laws. When those in positions of responsibility (namely legislators, planners, police, and adult drivers) abrogate the responsibility they’ve been entrusted with, that leaves only the most vulnerable at the bottom to be held responsible.

    An absolutely pathetic display. No way to run a civil society.

  • com63

    But pedestrians crossing legally in crosswalks with the right of way rarely have any control over whether they are hit. It is 100% the fault of the drivers who fail to yield if a pedestrian gets hit in a crosswalk. There may be some rare instances where a driver fails to yield, the pedestrian recognizes this and is able to get out of the way in time, but for the most part, the vulnerable pedestrians are at the mercy of drivers.

    Either the pedestrian has the right of way or the driver has the right of way. It makes no sense that the pedestrian can cede their right of way because they are holding a phone.

  • KJ

    When a car hits a person walking through a crossing (whether marked or unmarked) it is the car driver’s fault, not the pedestrian’s. The driver must use caution while driving, and must drive at a safe speed, which means being able to stop in time and not crash into someone.

  • Chris J.

    What about if I’m reading a brochure or map while crossing the street, or looking at the sky, looking at the ground, or examining a ladybug that alighted on the back of my hand? Shouldn’t those be illegal, too, for the same reason? Should the law demand constant vigilance — constantly rotating the head back and forth and scanning in all directions?

  • Jake Bloo

    This comment section is an incredible discussion that highlights the fallacy of victim blaming, and the same hollow talking points—everyone needs to do their part—are a shameful way to care about human beings.

  • crazyvag

    What does this law mean for the insurance liability? Say a pedestrian on the Peninsula has a WALK signal and crossing El Camino Real while glancing at his phone because he got a text. A driver runs a red light and hits the pedestrian. The pedestrian racks up $100K in medical bills.
    Two variations of this scenario:
    A) Incident happens in San Mateo with Jaywalking 2.0 laws.
    B) Incident happens in Mountain View with traditional laws.
    How will the location of the incident affect the amount of medical bills that motorists insurance for the pedestrian?

  • SF Guest

    “But pedestrians crossing legally in crosswalks with the right of way rarely have any control over whether they are hit.”

    While your quote is 100% true under the proposed cell phone law while walking distracted it is false in most cases while walking without a distraction. While walking in a crosswalk it doesn’t take much effort to make eye contact to see whether motorists are yielding to pedestrians.

    In most cases where a motorist is not yielding the right-of-way and violating a pedestrian’s right-of-way they don’t slow down or stop which isn’t difficult to identify unless the pedestrian isn’t paying attention. Of course “it is 100% the fault of drivers who fail to yield . . .” All vulnerable users have a responsibility to use due care to ensure their own safety regardless of whether their right-of-way is violated or ignored. Your focal point on who has the right-of-way is the wrong focus. Any pedestrian who sees a car not yielding will not insist on having the right-of-way.

    This week I was about to cross Market Street in SF on a green light when I and other pedestrians noticed a car failed to slow down and ran a red light while making an illegal left turn to boot.

    Crossing a street with a green light doesn’t absolve my duty to check if motor vehicles are going to yield. If my thought process coincided with the majority of commenters here several pedestrians would have been seriously injured or killed by this motorist.

  • cjeam

    C) Incident happens in country with universal healthcare.
    (Someone might still get sued, but the criminal charges will be the main concern)

  • KJ

    I would say that it is in your self-interest, but not your duty, to see if the car is yielding. The car driver must yield for pedestrians at crossings and must drive at a speed allowing them to stop in time.


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