Pedestrians in crosswalk
Pedestrians using marked crosswalk in downtown Hartford, Connecticut. Credit: Kerri Ana Provost / CTNewsJunkie
Kerri Ana Provost

Laws have unintended consequences. 

Let’s say you’re walking junior to school and let her cross the last street “alone,” while you observe and the crossing guard assists. A driver ignores the crossing guard’s stop sign, blowing through the intersection. You snap pics of the car with your phone and recite the plate number non-stop while the guard has her hands full pushing junior out of harm’s way. You report the incident to police, but the officer tells you that since you are not the crossing guard, he won’t ticket the driver.

This sounds nonsensical; you’re justifiably enraged. How would the guard manage to keep a child safe while taking down an accurate description of the vehicle and its driver, along with the precise time?

Welcome to An Act Concerning Increased Penalties for Failing to Stop for Crossing Guards, approved in May 2013. The law states: “Upon receipt of a written report from any school crossing guard specifying the license plate number, color and type of any motor vehicle observed by such school crossing guard violating any provision of subsection (a) of this section and the date, approximate time and location of such violation, a police officer may issue a written warning or summons to the owner of such vehicle.”

Something was lost in translation.

HB 5117 received little press when adopted, and that was focused on the section that increased the fine to $450 for first-time offenders. The law put disobeying a crossing guard on the same level with ignoring a school bus stop sign; at this point, crossing guards had been in existence for 90 years in the United States before it was thought to even get this much protection drafted.

The law was worded such that crossing guards were empowered to report dangerous incidents to the police, and so that officers understood that those entrusted with the lives of children could be trusted to file correct information. They, like bus drivers, would be listened to in this respect.

It would not make sense to exclude reports by witnesses who would, in some situations, be better sources of information than a guard in that moment, yet this is what happens, and not only hypothetically. An officer told a Fairfield parent that he would not arrest a driver for disobeying a crossing guard because it was the parent, not the crossing guard, who reported the incident to police. We already have laws to discourage people from making false reports, but this language adds unnecessary restriction. 

Many laws do not make sense, including almost any that penalizes people for walking outside of a designated area. What were they intended to prevent? Have they been successful? 

In Connecticut, like many other places, a person can receive an infraction for crossing the roadway somewhere besides the marked or unmarked crosswalk, or as directed by a police officer. Yet there is no evidence that a fear of being fined significantly changes the behavior of pedestrians. 

Last month, the Freedom to Walk Act became law in California, joining Nevada, Virginia, and Kansas City, Missouri in decriminalizing the act of people using the roadway in ways that would be frowned upon by the auto industry lobbyists from days of yore. What am I talking about? Jaywalking. In the 1920s, auto enthusiasts and manufacturers organized to marginalize those moving outside of vehicles, as part of a battle over who gets to use public space. This sent children to playgrounds and pedestrians to very specific parts of the street. Make no mistake: saving pedestrians’ lives was not the impetus for shooing walkers off the street; it was so that motorists could drive with as few interruptions as possible. 

The recent move to step down controls over pedestrian mobility have not gone without opposition, including by those who worry that people would put themselves at risk more if the threat of a fine (or being hit with a misdemeanor) were removed. If you’re in an urban area where police presumably have serious work to do, is a walking ticket ever something that crosses your mind unless you know this could be part of you being profiled? This is not unlike public drinking or loitering – many of us do both, at music festivals or hanging on the sidewalk chatting with friends – where police will selectively enforce for some, while ignoring the behavior completely in others. 

Since criminalizing types of pedestrian movement does little to increase safety, while leaving certain populations vulnerable to harassment, what Freedom to Walk laws do, according to America Walks, is “remove a pretext for over-policing.” 

Even the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), is urging a re-evaluation of how human movement is controlled, as “investigations from across the U.S. show that the rules governing how people walk, bike, and roll [through] space are being enforced disproportionately against Black, Latine/x, and low-income people — a pattern that results in both direct and indirect social, political, economic, environmental, and health impacts.”

As Connecticut looks toward increasing equity, revising certain pedestrian and cyclist laws – from so-called jaywalking to helmet laws – would be a next step. While legislators are reconsidering what is and isn’t working, they can clarify how we manage school zone safety. What may have begun as a way to empower school crossing guards has been used by law enforcement to ignore reports made by others, and that’s not helping anyone.

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Kerri Ana Provost

Kerri Ana Provost is a Hartford-based writer who also publishes at

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of or any of the author's other employers.