Before the invention of the car, jaywalking wasn’t a recognized concept.
Want to get across the street? Then just walk across the street—nobody’s going to stop you.
But the rise of the automobile posed a new problem for people of the early 20th century. While the median state-designated speed limit for American cities was just 10 miles per hour in 1906, the pace of American streets soon increased enough that people who wanted to cross them were suddenly putting themselves in harm’s way.
So cities across the U.S. started to regulate where and when pedestrians could cross.
Despite the clear mortal danger, these regulations were pretty broadly ignored until motorists and police started using an even more powerful force than law: ridicule.
In his 2007 paper, “Street Rivals: Jaywalking and the Invention of the Motor Age Street,” Peter D. Norton describes how ridicule was recognized early on as the best socializing force to control pedestrian behavior—behavior that would have to change with the times. Laws might help regulate pedestrians, but when there are too few police officers and too many citizens, there needs to be a radical shift in public attitude if a given law is deemed too radical for its time.
For instance, a law that would restrict how a person could do something as basic as crossing the street.