Jaywalking in downtown State College is an entrenched part of Penn State culture on par with the Grilled Sticky, Creamery ice cream and mocking the Willard Preacher, but is it legal? One could be forgiven for assuming that something everyone does must be legal, but jaywalking is not legal anywhere in Pennsylvania, including Happy Valley. This essentially means that even some of the most wholesome and harmless Penn State students flout the law every day.
It is perfectly legal for a pedestrian to cross a road outside of an “urban district,” because there are no cross walks out in the country or a stretch of urban sprawl lined with strip malls, restaurants and car dealerships. The pedestrian must, however, yield to oncoming traffic, and pursuant to Section 3543 of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code, “no pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close as to constitute a hazard.” This law applies to urban districts and everywhere else, but as we all know, Penn State students walk into the path of cars all the time, forcing motorists to slam on the breaks. Actually, in downtown State College, it is not legal to cross the street outside of a crosswalk even if it is 3:00 a.m. on a weekday in the dead of winter and no cars are in sight. In an urban district like downtown State College where cross walks and traffic control devices such red lights and “walk/ don’t walk” signs are present, pedestrians may lawfully cross the street only at cross walks.
Obviously, State College and Penn State Police rarely enforce the jaywalking laws. In fact, most people who receive jaywalking citations have actually been hit by a motor vehicle! It might look like the police are adding insult to injury, but the police are actually doing the right thing. The citation may help to shield the innocent motorist from civil liability, should a pedestrian who was foolish enough to walk into traffic try to sue the unfortunate driver.
So what is the penalty for jaywalking in Pennsylvania? It is a mere $5 fine, but the court costs will be more than 20 times the amount of the fine.
Matt McClenahen is a Penn State alumnus and criminal defense lawyer in State College, Pennsylvania. http://www.mattmlaw.com/About-Attorney-McClenahen/