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American people say

jaywalk: to cross a street carelessly or at an illegal or dangerous place

The police officer warned us not to jaywalk

It seems British people don't say "jaywalk".

Do we have a British version for it?

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    In UK law a pedestrian always has absolute right of way over vehicles. Even where pedestrians should not be, e.g. Motorways. Jaywalking does not exist.
    – Chenmunka
    Commented Jan 4 at 9:13
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    @Chenmunka this is specifically not true for motorways, see Highway Code rule 6 for pedestrians. More generally the Highway Code never uses the term 'right of way', only 'priority'.
    – nekomatic
    Commented Jan 4 at 10:11
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    @BillyKerr The default is that pedestrians are allowed. Signs forbidding pedestrians are a moderately common exception, and they apply to walking along not across. Here's a spot on the Bristol Ring road with a "no pedestrians" sign forbidding you from walking east from the bus stop. But 150m onwards, at the end of the bus lane, a public footpath crosses the road, with a sign pointing across it. "Most dual carriageways" is far from true
    – Chris H
    Commented Jan 4 at 13:44
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    Jaywalking is not about motorways/highwaysw. It's about regular roads/streets in towns/cities. And it means that you cross when the light is red or where there is no crosswalk.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 4 at 17:31
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    "Jaywalking" was a marketing push by early automobile manufacturers to try to make their products be viewed as less deadly by attempting to create a public perception that pedestrians were to blame for their own deaths ("jay" being a derogatory term akin to how "country hick" might be used today, positing that people who didn't affirmatively give way to vehicles were from less-cultured areas). The campaign has been problematic from the beginning. Commented Jan 5 at 17:02

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I suppose there is not a British version. My understanding is that there is no such offense in the UK. You might find this BBC article interesting.

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    There is absolutely not a British offence equivalent to the US 'jaywalking'. We look with bemusement (and horror) at the Americans and their whistle blowing cops telling people where they can or cannot walk. Commented Jan 4 at 8:21
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    I remember at the 1981 World Science Fiction Convention in Denver, CO, some British fans were ticketed for jaywalking: they had no idea that they were not permitted to cross the road except at a marked crossing.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jan 4 at 11:35
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    @MichaelHarvey: You're right that there's no such offence in Britain, but there is in the UK - it does exist in Northern Ireland. I'm not sure if there's a specific term used for it there, though.
    – psmears
    Commented Jan 4 at 16:12
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    @MichaelHarvey There are at least some pedestrian laws in the UK. For example, it’s illegal to walk on a motorway except in emergencies: gov.uk/guidance/the-highway-code/rules-for-pedestrians-1-to-35 Commented Jan 4 at 17:45
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    I remember some obscure book explaining how jay-walking was an American-only propaganda campaign, but there it is in lowly Wikipedia "Automobile interests in the US took up the cause of labeling and scorning jaywalkers in the 1910s and early 1920s." Commented Jan 5 at 1:21
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As others have said, there is no specific law governing crossing the road in the UK, so there is no clear equivalent. The emphasis in both education and the law is on crossing safely.

The Highway Code (and the separate Highway Way Code for Northern Ireland) lists both laws and guidance for all road users, including pedestrians. Rule 6 is that "Pedestrians MUST NOT be on motorways or slip roads except in an emergency" and Rule 18 includes "You MUST NOT loiter on any type of crossing". The capitalised "must not" refers to laws enforcing that prohibition, which are referenced in the text.

Rule 7, which covers crossing other roads; and rules 18 to 30, which cover types of marked crossing; are guidance only - they don't contain or reference strict definitions, or specific offenses. Note that crossing the road dangerously could still constitute an offence, on a case by case basis; as the introduction to the Highway Code clarifies:

Although failure to comply with the other rules of the Code will not, in itself, cause a person to be prosecuted, The Highway Code may be used in evidence in any court proceedings under the Traffic Acts.

Most people in the UK will be familiar with this guidance as the "Green Cross Code", which is taught to children.

Some might recognise the word "jaywalking", some might associate it particularly with other countries, and some might never have heard it. I seem to recall first hearing it in an American context, and having to look up what it meant.

To be sure you'll be understood, just be descriptive, and say "crossing the road dangerously". If you're referring to it in the context of the USA or another country where it has a legal definition, "jaywalking" should be considered untranslateable, perhaps with an explanation in parentheses if it's important.

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    Not quite true to say it doesn't exist in the UK, because a relevant law does exist in Northern Ireland. There's none in GB though :)
    – psmears
    Commented Jan 4 at 16:13
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    @psmears Huh, today I learned that NI has its own Highway Code (but England, Wales, and Scotland share one). However, the same section in the NI Code does not appear to include any additional "must" wording or law references, which is surprising if such a law exists.
    – IMSoP
    Commented Jan 4 at 16:19
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    Apparently it's the Road Traffic (Northern Ireland) Order 1995, section 38 - "If a pedestrian through his own negligence on a road endangers his own safety, or that of any other person, he is guilty of an offence."
    – psmears
    Commented Jan 4 at 16:29
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    @psmears That's not a prohibition of jaywalking specifically, just of general dangerous behaviour. Failure to follow the Green Cross Code could be used as evidence of such negligence, but would not automatically consitute an offense if nobody was endangered. (I've added a quote from the Highway Code that mentions this distinction.) In contrast, a jaywalking prohibition would make it an offense in itself to cross the road in certain places, regardless of whether it could be demonstrated to be unsafe to do so in that specific instance.
    – IMSoP
    Commented Jan 4 at 16:32
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    That kinda depends on your exact definition of what constitutes "jaywalking". The law is enough for it to be included on the Wikipedia page, for what it's worth (and no, I didn't edit that page ;-) ).
    – psmears
    Commented Jan 4 at 16:49
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As a child growing up in Britain, I was certainly told never to "jaywalk", meaning "walk into a road recklessly or aimlessly".

However, "jaywalking" would not normally have any suggestion of illegality when used here, any more than "running with scissors" might.

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    The instruction was of course common, but the word jaywalk wasn't (for example I can't find it in any materials from the Green Cross Code.
    – Chris H
    Commented Jan 4 at 10:24
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    @ChrisH: I grew up in London in the ’80s, and exactly like this answer, I learned jaywalk with that meaning. I knew it as a completely informal term — so I’m not at all surprised that it’s not in the official material you link — but with no particularly American associations.
    – PLL
    Commented Jan 4 at 10:27
  • @ChrisH I heard it used informally by parents and teachers, but I don't think I ever saw it written down back then. (I'm a similar age to PLL but from a different part of the country.) Commented Jan 4 at 10:33
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    @PLL I grew up in the South East in the ’70s and ’80s, and I don't think I ever heard the word used — at least, not outside of US TV programmes.  Of course, all children are taught not to cross roads without due care and attention; but even the Green Cross Code told you simply to ‘find a safe place to cross’ (now ‘…the safest place…’), without specifying that some places might not be permissible.
    – gidds
    Commented Jan 4 at 11:07
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    @PLL in a similar time and place to you, I didn't. but we didn't watch much American TV in our house
    – Chris H
    Commented Jan 4 at 13:18
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You can just use "jaywalk" and most people will understand what you mean, even if it's not a concept in British society.

Australia and Hong Kong penalize crossing the road outside designated crossing areas. Both jurisdictions' usage of English is heavily influenced by British English. Both commonly use "jaywalk" to describe such behaviour.

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    In my experience in Australia, jaywalking most commonly refers to crossing a road diagonally, instead of taking the shortest path across the road.
    – Peter
    Commented Jan 4 at 12:14
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As Edmond said, there is no specific British word for jaywalking, and it is not a crime (or even a legal concept) in the UK. However, if you must use a word for such an act, you can use either the word 'jaywalking' itself or 'illegally crossing a road'. In informal contexts, I've also seen the term 'jumping the street' get used.

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    Jaywalking is commonly used in British sources discussing the US, as in the BBC article linked above.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jan 4 at 9:22
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    I learned the expression from my mother, who had no American connections, in the 1950s, so it's not true that it 'isn't a concept in the UK'. Commented Jan 4 at 12:53
  • @KateBunting - it was common enough in my childhood in the 1950s. I learned it from books, films, TV shows, etc. Commented Jan 4 at 18:46
  • That's right. British people do tend understand the meaning of the term. However, when I said "concept", I meant to refer to the non-existence of the idea of jaywalking in the laws of UK. Jaywalking cannot happen because it doesn't exist according to the law. But I should clarify that. Commented Jan 5 at 11:39
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A simple search of the British-English corpus shows that "jaywalk" and its inflections are used frequently, albeit not at as high a rate as in the American-English corpus: Comparison of the use of inflections of "jaywalk" in the American and British English corpora

The editorialization of the other answers regarding the supposed inconceivability of this simple concept to the British mind is irrelevant.

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    I can't speak for anyone else, but my answer is not suggesting that it is "inconceivable", only that the specific meaning of "jaywalking" - crossing at a non-designated place - is not one that comes up often in the UK, since the emphasis of road safety education is on crossing safely, not crossing in approved places. I can only speak anecdotally, and others may have other experience, but I would never use the word myself, and would be surprised to hear it outside an American or other non-British context.
    – IMSoP
    Commented Jan 4 at 16:39
  • Plotting your ngram search as a ratio does suggest it's becoming more common in the UK, though, at least according to Google's corpus labelling: books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – IMSoP
    Commented Jan 4 at 16:46

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