Enforcement of anti-jaywalking laws in the US is sporadic, often only triggered by repeated complaints from drivers about pedestrian behaviour in a particular place. But jaywalking remains illegal across the country, and has been for many decades.
The first known reference to it dates to December 1913, says Peter Norton, a history professor at the University of Virginia and author of Fighting Traffic - The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City. That month a department store in Syracuse hired a Santa Claus who stood on the street with a megaphone, bellowing at people who didn't cross properly and calling them jaywalkers.
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A key moment, says Norton, was a petition signed by 42,000 people in Cincinnati in 1923 to limit the speed of cars mechanically to 25mph (40kph). Though the petition failed, an alarmed auto industry scrambled to shift the blame for pedestrian casualties from drivers to walkers.
Local car firms got boy scouts to hand out cards to pedestrians explaining jaywalking. "These kids would be posted on sidewalks and when they saw someone starting to jaywalk they'd hand them one of these cards," says Norton. "It would tell them that it was dangerous and old fashioned and that it's a new era and we can't cross streets that way."Automobile companies then began to work with journalists by providing information on the traffic situation of journalists' cities in return for news coverage that was favorable of vehicles rather than pedestrians. Between this tactic and lobbying of school boards and legislatures, automobile companies were instrumental in cities' adoption of anti-jaywalking laws.