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Article

The Criminalization of Walking

The simple act of walking is sometimes criminalized in the United States. Anti-jaywalking statutes and ordinances—originally motivated by auto-industry lobbyists in the 1920s—call for fines and, sometimes, imprisonment for crossing the street. Additionally, some localities have interpreted statutes against “child neglect” to encompass a parent’s decision to let their kid walk outside alone. The result of this criminalization? Such policies have reduced pedestrian liberty, increased automobile traffic and pollution, and created a disincentive for physical activity in the midst of an obesity and diabetes epidemic. In addition to discussing these effects, this Article argues that the purported safety benefits of criminalizing walking pale in comparison to those of decriminalization. In the context of currently vague child-neglect laws, this Article suggests a bright-line rule that would empower parents’ decision to allow their children to do the unthinkable: walk themselves to school.

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