Z is for Zebra Crosing


And we may find a tiger too…

Zebra Crossings are low-maintenance, cheap to install, and are simple to use for able-bodied pedestrians. Quite simply, if a pedestrian steps on to a zeba crossing, any vehicles on the road MUST stop and allow the pedestrian to cross.

Originally simply called a “pedestrian crossing”, the path for pedestrians was defined by silver studs: these still appear today. After they were ignored by pedestrians and motorists alike, they were made more obvious with belisha beacons and red/white stripes. Altered to black and whte in 1951, the layout is the same today. See how to use a pedestrian crossing 1940’s style here: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/films/1945to1951/filmpage_pc.htm

Clearly, if you are very close a crossing at more than a handful of miles per hour, and a pedestrian decides to go for it, the pedestrian will end up worse off. But the driver will be at fault. Therefore, we need to slow down in anticipation of anybody on the pavement who may be about to cross. As you approach, scan both sides of the crossing for pedestrians either waiting to cross, or nearby the crossing who may need to cross by the time you arive.

If you cannot see both sides of the crossing then slow down until you can. Other vehicles, trees, and bends in the road can all obscure your view. By slowing in advance the likelihood of timing it right and not needing to stop completely is quite high. You can improve pedestrian safety by leaving the space beyond the crossing clear (1-2 car lengths is enough); this makes it easier for drivers in the opposite direction to see pedestrians on your side of the crossing. Now if only everyone did that!

You can usually see zebra crossings from a good distance by the flashing orange “Belisha Beacons”; and there is often a warning sign for a zebra crossing ahead if visibility isnt perfect. (For the geeks the belisha beacon is covered by BS8442, and the flash rate is 750ms on, 750ms off).

Two-part zebra

A zebra crossing with a central island for pedestrians should be treated as two separate crossings. In this example the traffic travelling left to right must stop for the pedestrian: vehicles travelling right to left may continue. But think … how long will it take the pedestrian to reach the central point? If you are more than a few car lengths away then you’ll probably need to stop (or better, slow) anway.

Slow and go

Ideally, you’ll plan ahead and use your anticiaption skills to prevent the need to come to a full stop. But certain pedestrians e.g. elderly, blind etc may take a long time to cross, and coming to a complete stop provides them with some reassurance that they will be safe.


The zigzags serve two purposes: they indicate the place near the crossing where you must not park (this would make it difficult to see pedestrians). They also indicate a no-overtaking zone: you must not attempt to overtake the vehicle nearest to the crossing. It does not matter if the lead vehicle is moving or stopped to allow pedestrians across: do not overtake it.

Tiger Crossings

Cyclists should not cycle across zebra crossings but they do, and their approach speed and ability to “appear from nowhere” makes them an additonal hazard to look for. A recent invention is the Tiger Crossing, which specifically allows cyclists to cycle across (think of it as the equivalent of a Toucan Crossing). Anywhere you see cycle paths on the pavement, the zebra crossing may have been upgraded to a Tiger. The same hazards of fast approach speed means that you’ll need to be extra cautious when drivng towards this type of crossing

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