Thursday, July 05, 2012
Jaywalking around the world
I had a friend from the Netherlands staying with me for a couple of weeks. He smokes, and I like to visit the charity shop, and so we combined a trip up the road. When we got to the complicated road traffic junction which has to be crossed to get to the parade of shops we were going to, I saw that there was no traffic approaching and crossed even though the pedestrian light was showing a red man.
There was Dutch muttering behind me, and it was clear that he felt I had taken an unnecessary risk. On discussing whether I had, in fact, taken risks with his life, he accused me of breaking the law, and said that in the Netherlands such behaviour could lead to a €90 fine. He made the assumption that the law was the same in the UK. It isn't.
In the UK pedestrians, and not cars, are assumed to have the right of way, and commonsense prevails. If you jump out in front of a car and cause an accident, you will be held to account for that behaviour... both drivers and pedestrians are required to behave with respect for other users of the road. But on the other hand, if you can see that you can safely cross, despite the pedestrian signal being red, you are allowed to do so.
Dear reader, the point of this blog post is to warn that things do not work that way in the rest of the world. In the US in many states, pedestrians are required to respect the traffic signals, and in many states the vehicles, and not pedestrians, have the major right of way.
This incident made sense of something that happened to me twenty years ago in Germany, too. I was in Hamburg, in a park which was intersected by roads. There was a pedestrian crossing over the road, and I dutifully went there, but being able to see for about 500 yards either way that there was nothing coming, I crossed the road, to angry shouts in German from my fellow pedestrians.
I *thought* that it was simply the German love of rules which made them shout at me, and that they were saying I should respect the red man symbol, even if the road was entirely clear, but I now realize they may have been telling me that I could be fined or arrested for my "crime".
I had always thought that jaywalking was crossing the road in a dangerous fashion, perhaps weaving in and out of cars etc... but it seems that I am assuming that other jurisdictions have the same sort of commonsense common law that I am used to. They don't. Crossing when the little red man is showing, or a "don't walk" sign of any sort is showing, is an offence in many countries, even if every car in the vicinity is up on blocks with no tyres. You can be arrested.
To my surprise, both Australia and New Zealand have heavy financial penalties for not observing the little red man, and in Singapore you may be imprisoned. It therefore pays to find out the local laws regarding pedestrians wherever you travel. A NZ$ 4000 fine for an adult or NZ$180 for a child may put a bit of a hole in your spending money!