Zebra Crossing

The Zebra Crossing was first introduced in limited numbers on UK public roads in 1949. The original Zebra  Crossing had alternating blue and white stripes.

Although Zebra Crossings are gradually being phased out by more sophisticated pedestrian crossings such as the Puffin Crossing, they are still a common sight on UK roads.

When driving examiners design the driving test routes, they intentionally incorporate as many various types of pedestrian crossings as possible, especially the Zebra Crossing. This guide explains the rules and regulations used at Zebra Crossings for both the pedestrian and for drivers approaching and stopping at Zebra Crossings.

In particular, this tutorial explains the correct procedures that car drivers (and those on a driving test) should adhere to when approaching a Zebra Crossing.

Zebra Crossings – Driving

It’s important to always look well ahead whilst driving, not only during your driving test, but also once you have passed. Zebra Crossings do fail a large amount of driving tests, not necessarily due to the actions of the learner driver, but pedestrians. Pedestrians and cyclists often can enter onto a Zebra Crossings with little regard for traffic.

Although this may seem like the fault of the pedestrian or cyclist, the examiner will always look upon the learner driver to take the appropriate action in avoiding a potential accident. Cyclists also pose a problem at Zebra Crossings. Although regulations inform cyclists to dismount whilst crossing a Zebra, some often young riders, often don’t which results in a cyclist approaching a crossing too fast for drivers to react safely.

Approaching Zebra Crossings

Whilst looking well ahead whilst driving, look for road signs situated before a pedestrian crossing indicating a crossing ahead. You may also notice the flashing lights further ahead down the road situated on the Zebra called Belisha beacons (see diagram below). The black and white post along with the amber flashing beacon provides drivers with a noticeable visual hazard warning.

Zebra crossing
Zebra crossing markings

The earliest opportunity you have to notice a Zebra Crossing up ahead will provide you with the best chance of dealing with it safely and correctly as this will enable you with more time to spot approaching pedestrians or cyclists. On the approach, scan up and down the crossing constantly for any approaching pedestrians or cyclists.

Ensure on the approach to look into your rear view mirror to establish if any vehicles are behind you and if so, how close. If a vehicle is close behind you, ease off the accelerator a little earlier just in case you need to stop at the crossing.

The examiner will be assessing the speed at which you approach a Zebra Crossing and the appropriate observations. The examiner will be expecting you to look into your rear view mirror and also to be checking up and down the crossing for pedestrians that may wish to cross.

The speed at which you approach the crossing and cross it depends on if it is ‘open’ or ‘closed’. If it is open and you can clearly see there are no pedestrians waiting or approaching, there will be no need to slow your car down.

If it is closed and difficult to see pedestrians, you will need to slow down to an appropriate speed so as you can safely stop if necessary. An example of ‘closed’ may be vehicles stopped on the opposite carriageway due to congestion that will likely obscure your view of the entire crossing.

Legally speaking, you do not have to stop your car unless a pedestrian has placed a foot onto the crossing, however if there are pedestrians waiting, stop your vehicle just before the broken white line to give way. If on a driving test, failure to give way and stop to a waiting pedestrian will result in a failure.

If the road is busy and there are traffic queues on the opposite side of the road, it may be very difficult to see a pedestrian. In such a case, you will need to slow down significantly to maintain safe observation and stop if necessary.

Stopping on a Zebra Crossing

Try to avoid stopping on or over the give way line at a Zebra Crossing (see give way line on diagram above). If on a driving test, this action is likely to fail you. Stopping on the Zebra Crossing itself is an traffic offence and will certainly fail a driving test.

If there is traffic congestion on your side of the road, ensure the vehicle in front has cleared the crossing leaving sufficient room for you to progress over the crossing, and clearing the give way lines on the opposite side.

Staggered Zebra Crossings

A staggered Zebra Crossing as illustrated in the diagram to the right is often used on busy roads where pedestrians can use a central reservation as a waiting area before crossing the second half of the road. A staggered and a non-staggered crossing with a central reservation is classed as two crossings.

With these types of Zebra Crossings, providing there are no pedestrians waiting to cross on your side of the road, you are permitted to continue regardless of pedestrians crossing the opposite side of the road.

Staggered Zebra Crossing
Staggered Zebra crossing with central reservation

Stopping for pedestrians who are crossing the opposite side of the road will fail a driving test. Only stop if a pedestrian is approaching your side of the crossing or if they are already waiting.

Failing to stop at a Zebra Crossing

Failing to stop and give way at a Zebra Crossing is a traffic violation and could lead to penalty points on your licence (provisional included) and a fine. In certain accident prone areas, cameras are installed at Zebra Crossings to catch offenders.

Zebra Crossing arm signal

Arm signals are not used often these days although it once used to be a significant part of the UK practical driving test many years ago. Arm signals can be used as an extra safety measure to alert other vehicles of an impending hazard.

By placing your right arm out of the window, keeping the arm straight whilst waving up and down signals to other road users your intention of slowing down or stopping. This may be of use if a driver behind you is driving too close and can be used as an extra precaution to your brake lights, or if you believe drivers on the opposite side of the road approaching the crossing may have difficulties in observing a pedestrian crossing. For further information, see:

Zebra Crossing regulations

  • A driver must stop and give way to a pedestrian approaching a Zebra Crossing with the intention of crossing or for waiting pedestrians.
  • The zig zag lines painted on the road either side of a Zebra Crossing are areas where vehicles are not permitted to park. Parking in these areas obstructs the view of the crossing to other drivers and increases the chances of accidents to both drivers and pedestrians.
  • The Zebra Crossing area must be kept clear at all times to allow the safe passage of pedestrians. Stopping in this area is hazardous for pedestrians and will certainly fail a driving test.
  • A driver is not permitted to overtake another vehicle on a Zebras Crossing. Overtaking a cyclist is permitted.
  • Gesturing pedestrians at a Zebra Crossing to cross should be avoided. A pedestrian may take this action as meaning it is safe to cross and is a common cause of accidents.

Zebra Crossing Sign
Zebra Crossing road sign

Zebra Crossing / pedestrian crossing road signs

Always keeps a sharp eye out for road signs. Zebra Crossing road signs may be in place to warn you of a pedestrian crossing ahead. They provide advance warning of the hazard ahead, giving you time to prepare.


Zebra Crossing beacon light
Zebra Crossing Belisha beacon

Zebra Crossing lights / beacons

Belisha beacons are placed either side of a Zebra Crossing to aid approaching drivers of a potential hazard. Belisha beacons flash on and off each at a cycle of around 1 second.


Stopping and parking at Zebra Crossings

Unless you are forced to stop your vehicle due to traffic congestion or giving way to a pedestrian crossing, it is a prohibition to stop or park your vehicle on the white zig zag road markings. Doing so will result in penalty points being placed on the drivers licence and a fine. See zigzag road markings for further information on parking procedures and penalties on yellow or white zigzag road markings.

OTHER TYPES OF PEDESTRIAN CROSSINGS

19 thoughts on “Zebra Crossing”

  1. paul

    i am confused as we are always taught to give way and common sense comes to mind whilst at a zebra crossing but i was informed on a NDORS course by an ex policeman that it is not breaking the law unless a pedestrian has their feet on a crossing. I suppose as many may change their mind or go back to a shop if it is desired but surely if somebody is waiting by a crossing it is different.

  2. Hello Paul,
    Yes, you are in fact correct as ‘Legally speaking, you do not have to stop your car unless a pedestrian has placed a foot onto the crossing’ as detailed above. Most drivers do of course stop once they see a pedestrian waiting, hence little need for this old law to be updated.

    If you were on a driving test and did abide by this old law – driving through whilst pedestrians waited, you’d most certainly fail.

  3. Richard Rawden

    Once the pedestrian has started cross the road, must the crossing be completely clear before the motorist proceeds, or can you drive on when the pedestrian has past you and the crossing in front of you is clear?

  4. Hello Richard
    You must wait until the pedestrian has completely cleared the crossing before proceeding. Unless it is a staggered crossing where this is classed as two separate crossings.

  5. Grams

    I had a disagreement with my other half about this the other day – I waited until the pedestrian had completely cleared the zebra crossing. He said I should have moved off as soon as it was clear to do so (though the pedestrian was still on the crossing). I’d like to show him the highway code section to confirm I’m correct – have you got the reference please?

  6. Cliff Short

    Why are there 3 white zig zag lines before a crossing? as although it is a NIP offence to wait or park on a zig zag line,you would not exactly park in the middle of the road!

  7. Hi Cliff,
    It’s not about blocking traffic flow. It’s an offence to park there because it obscures the view of the road for the pedestrians and obscures the view of the crossing for road users.

  8. Rob

    I’m sure in the distant past I was told that if a car was within the zigzag zone it wasn’t to be expected by the pedestrian that they could cross, but if a car was approaching then the car had to stop tolow them to cross.

  9. Hi Rob,
    It really comes down to the distance the car is from the crossing area and the speed at which the vehicle is moving. If the driver can stop safely when taking into consideration other road users, then they should do so. There are some old rules surrounding Zebra crossings such as the pedestrian’s foot being placed on the crossing before traffic has to stop, but these rules are no longer followed by the DVSA.

  10. Jimmmeee

    I have a confession, I lost my temper this morning. I was in busy London traffic and someone was beeping ( probably not at me) behind me and as a pedestrian was walking to the end of the crossing I started driving on to it. She then complained that I had not given way and not waited for her. I felt that although I had started driving onto the crossing I had allowed her enough space to finish crossing. In some parts of London you have to edge onto a crossing otherwise pedestrians will keep you waiting indefinitely. My question is- was I in the wrong?

  11. Jimmmeee

    Hmmm ok- so I am still not sure if this answers the question ( I may be wrong). So giving the pedestrian precedence may not necessarily mean that the driver could not start driving onto the part the pedestrian has already cleared?

  12. Laws around Zebra crossings is that the pedestrian has priority once they have placed a foot on the highway and of course the no parking regulation on the white zig zags. Drivers should wait for pedestrians to clear the crossing should only start again once all pedestrians have left the crossing. This isn’t law but a recommendation. If you start to move off when the pedestrian has only cleared your half of the crossing, it may cause a reaction to the driver on the opposite side of the road.

  13. Roger

    One item of interest that I have not found a definite answer to in the highway code is that after having stopped to give way to pedestrians at say a belisha lights crossing do you have to wait untill they have set foot on the pavement on the other side before proceding if no more pedestrans are starting to cross or like in many cases I have seen drivers carry on when pedestrains have cleared their side of the road. This situation is not mentioned anywhere I can find. Would the driver be at some fault as clearly they have stopped and given way, could such a matter lead to court procedings or fines and if so what specic rule outlining this situation would be used as the basis for any legal action.

  14. Hi Roger,
    There isn’t a law that outlines a pedestrian exiting the crossing as far as I’m aware. There hasn’t been much change in the law since when they were first introduced. As instructors, we do teach learners to allow the pedestrian to exit the crossing before proceeding, simply due to cause and effect.

    Traffic collisions are often quite complex when it comes to court and drivers that think they have right of way often find out that things aren’t quite that simple. However, in the case of pedestrians, they almost always have right of way, particularly at zebra crossings. Pedestrians do of course have a degree of responsibility when using a zebra crossing, but not all people can judge vehicle speed accurately, this can apply to young or old.

    As such the onus almost always falls on the driver in that they should see a pedestrian approaching a crossing and stop in time for them to safely cross and indeed wait for the pedestrian to safely exit the road before continuing. Though it’s unlikely to result in any action being taken if an incident didn’t occur, the driver being in charge of a potentially dangerous piece of equipment has far greater responsibility than the vulnerable pedestrian and that’s the way a court would see it.

  15. Roger

    Thanks for your answer regarding this grey matter. So would I be right to assume that a fixed penalty notice would not be issued should a Council Agency mobile CCTV vehicle record an event where a driver stops at a belisha lights crossing to allow pedestrians to cross and then slowly carries on after the pedestrians have cleared his side of the road and are almost but not quite at the curb on the other side and there not being any vehicles waiting or approaching the other side at the time. And this being in a situation without incident or complaint from anyone. In these times councils are hunting for revenue we don’t really want grey areas.

  16. Hi Roger,
    If there was no cause for the pedestrian to report the driver and therefore there was no incident, I can’t see a reason why there would be a fixed penalty issued.

  17. charles

    In America where I am from you just slowly creep onto the Crossing because like you said you could be there for the rest of your life. Wonder why they do not have Pedestrian Lights at all Crossings!! Also, where does COMMON SENSE come into play!!! Way too much emphasis on this!! Where does the FLOW OF TRAFFIC come into play? Damn if you do, damn if you don’t!!!! COMMON SENSE PEOPLE!!!!!!!

  18. Hello Charles,
    Zebra crossing have been around since the early 50’s, when there was far less traffic. Things have of course changed and most new crossings are controlled with lights (Pelican / Puffin crossings for example. With high traffic density and with pedestrians staring down at their phones, light controlled crossings are the safer option.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *