Ease up on Hawaii’s zealous enforcement of jaywalking rules

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By Keli‘i Akina

Have you ever stood on a street corner waiting impatiently for the crossing signal — with not a car in sight?

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Here in Hawaii, crossing the street before the signal gives you the go-ahead could easily earn you a jaywalking ticket.

But, I’m happy to report, that might soon change.

A growing number of local organizations have come out in support of a bill moving through the Legislature that would let pedestrians cross the street carefully and responsibly, regardless of whether they are in a crosswalk or what the walk signal says.

Called the Freedom to Walk bill, SB2630 would simply require that pedestrians use good judgment and not risk any accidents.

That seems reasonable to me. Most of us learned to look both ways and be careful crossing the street before we could even read.

And yet, the law currently assumes we are incapable of exercising this most basic survival practice, which has left us subject to overzealous enforcement of the state’s jaywalking laws.

And “overzealous” is not an exaggeration. The Hawai‘i Appleseed Center for Law & Economic Justice recently released a report that found Hawaii issues significantly more jaywalking-related citations than any other U.S. locality where similar studies have been conducted.

Violations in Hawaii include “crossing outside of crosswalks,” “crossing on the ‘Do not walk’ sign or timer,” “suddenly leaving the curb,” and “other.”

According to the report, Hawaii pedestrians receive about 5,000 jaywalking-related tickets a year, which equates to a staggering 349 citations per 100,000 people, versus only about six per 100,000 in both Washington state and New York City.

Lest we jump to blaming tourists for most of those Hawaii citations, our state actually hosted 9.2 million visitors in 2022 compared to 102.2 million in Washington state and
56.7 million in New York City.

Defenders of jaywalking laws claim they protect the public, but states that have already enacted Freedom to Walk legislation have proven otherwise. For example, Virginia decriminalized jaywalking in 2020, yet the state has seen no increase in pedestrian injuries or deaths.

Ironically, Hawaii ranks as the second-most dangerous state for pedestrians. So all the jaywalking tickets issued here have not necessarily been making our streets safer.

But perhaps more shocking, jaywalking tickets issued in Hawaii don’t even serve as a revenue source. According to the Hawai‘i Appleseed report, it cost nearly $1 million between 2018 and 2023 to issue all those tickets — mainly because about 78% of the $3.8 million in fines went uncollected, while the cost of enforcement totaled about $1.8 million.

So not only are we failing to treat our residents and visitors with decency and aloha, we are losing precious tax revenues in the process.

I say we give the “freedom to walk” idea a chance. We can always go back to the current hyper-enforcement of jaywalking laws, but for now, I think it’s a safe bet that we can trust people to cross the street carefully.
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Keli‘i Akina is president and CEO of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.

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Grassroot Institute of Hawaii is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research institute dedicated to the principles of individual liberty, the free market and accountable government. Through research papers, policy briefings, commentaries and conferences, the Institute seeks to educate and inform Hawaii's policy makers, news media and general public. Committed to its independence, the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii neither seeks nor accepts government funding. The institute is a 501(c)(3) organization supported by all those who share a concern for Hawaii's future and an appreciation of the role of sound ideas and more informed choices.

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