Pedestrian Crossings: What are the rules?

Anyone who has recently passed their driving theory test will no doubt be able to outline the differences between zebra, pelican and puffin crossings, which are three well known examples of “pedestrian crossings”.[1]  But what does road traffic law actually say about pedestrian crossings, and what consequences can follow if you do not follow the relevant rules?


Pedestrian Crossing Regulations

The law relating to pedestrian crossings largely comes from the Zebra, Pelican and Puffin Crossings Regulations and General Directions 1997[2] (“the Regulations”), which were compiled by the Secretary of State under powers delegated by the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 (“RTRA”).  As well as setting out what drivers and pedestrians must do in the vicinity of a pedestrian crossing, the Regulations also outline (at considerable length) the design specification for each type of pedestrian crossing.  Although the focus of this article is on the rules relating to pedestrian crossings rather than their design, it is worth highlighting that there may be scope for a defence if the local authority has not complied (to a material extent) with the prescribed design when constructing a particular type of crossing.

The Rules

Under s25 RTRA, it is a criminal offence for any person to break any of the rules contained within section IV of the Regulations.  Interestingly, unless the Regulations expressly state otherwise, these rules apply to pedestrians and cyclists as well as drivers.  The main rules are outlined below.

1.Stopping “within the limits of a crossing”.

You must not stop your vehicle “within the limits of a crossing” unless (a) you are prevented from proceeding by circumstances beyond your control, or (b) it is necessary for you to stop to avoid an accident.[3]

It is important to note that the “limits of a crossing” refers to the black and white striped area which forms the crossing itself, and NOT to the zig-zagged area leading up to the crossing.  It is also worth highlighting that, for the purposes of this rule, “vehicle” includes any type of vehicle (including bicycles).

2. Stopping “within a controlled area”.

Unless one of the exceptions below applies, you must not stop your vehicle within a “controlled area”.  (For the purposes of this rule, the “controlled area” is the zig-zagged area leading up to the crossing.)  Importantly, this particular rule does not apply to bicycles.[4]

You may only stop your vehicle within a controlled area if:

(a)    You do so in order to allow a pedestrian to use the crossing;[5]

(b)   You are prevented from proceeding due to circumstances beyond your control;[6]

(c)    It is necessary to stop to avoid an accident;[7]

(d)   The vehicle is being used for police, fire brigade or ambulance purposes;[8]

(e)    The vehicle is being used for maintenance or construction purposes, or to remove an obstacle from the carriageway, and the vehicle cannot be used for that purpose without stopping within the controlled area;[9]

(f)    The vehicle is a public bus (but not a coach) which is waiting in the controlled area to take up or set down passengers;[10] or

(g)   The vehicle is stopped for the purpose of making a left or right turn.[11]

3. Pedestrians delaying on crossings.

Pedestrians must not remain on the carriageway for any longer than is necessary for the pedestrian to pass over the crossing with “reasonable dispatch”.

4. Overtaking vehicles at crossings.

Where a vehicle is within a controlled area and is proceeding towards the crossing, the driver of that vehicle must not overtake any vehicle proceeding in the same direction, or overtake any vehicle which has stopped in order to let pedestrians use the crossing.[12]

If there is more than one vehicle proceeding towards the crossing, or more than one vehicle that has stopped at the crossing, this rule is only broken where the vehicle closest to the crossing has been overtaken.  As above, the “controlled area” is the part of the road marked with zig-zags leading up to the crossing.  It is also important to note that this rule only applies to motor vehicles, so therefore applies to motorcycles but does not apply to bicycles

5. Stopping for pedestrians at zebra crossings.

Drivers must generally give way to pedestrians who are using a zebra crossing.  However, drivers need not give way if (a) the pedestrian has not yet stepped into the carriageway, or (b) the vehicle has entered the limits of the crossing before the pedestrian.[13]  This rule also applies when a flashing amber signal is being displayed at a pelican crossing.[14]

6. Compliance with traffic lights at pelican or puffin crossings.

As would be expected, if a red light is showing at a pelican or puffin crossing, you must stop your vehicle.  You must also stop if a steady amber light is being displayed at either type of crossing, unless your vehicle is so close to the stop line that it would be unsafe to stop in time.[15]  (The usual exemptions for emergency vehicles apply.[16])

It should be emphasised that this is a non-exhaustive list: we have outlined only the main rules here, but the complete list can be found in section IV of the Regulations.

Potential consequences for breaking the rules

As noted above, there is a specific offence (see s25 RTRA) which targets road users who break the rules relating to pedestrian crossings.  In terms of penalties, if you break these rules the court MUST give you three penalty points.  They also have the option of disqualifying you from driving, and can also fine you up to £1000.

However, depending on the facts of the individual case, it is possible that breaking these rules can carry more serious consequences.  If the court was to take the view that, in all the circumstances, your driving fell below (or far below) the standard that would be expected of a competent and careful driver, you could face a much more serious charge of careless (or dangerous) driving: the latter can result in a prison sentence.

If you have been accused of a driving offence, call us now for a free consultation.  With the expertise of a Road Law Barrister on your side, you might be able to avoid disqualification.  In R v B, Mr B received 13 penalty points and so risked losing his license and his job.  Mr B walked from court with both his license and his job after a Road Law Barrister successfully persuaded the Magistrates to accept that disqualification would cause Mr B to endure exceptional hardship.[17]


The contents of this article should not be relied upon in isolation.  Each case is fact specific and this article should not be treated as legal advice or as a substitute for legal advice.


[1] For those who have not recently passed their theory tests, a pelican crossing is essentially a zebra crossing controlled by traffic lights with a flashing amber phase, and a puffin crossing is essentially a pelican crossing with infra red cameras instead of a flashing amber phase.

[2] (SI 1997 No. 2400)

[3] Regulation 18

[4] Regulation 20

[5] Regulation 21(a)

[6] Regulation 21(b)

[7] Regulation 21(b)

[8] Regulation 21(c)

[9] Regulation 22(1)(a)

[10] Regulation 22(1)(b)

[11] Regulation 22(1)(c)

[12] Regulation 24(1)

[13] Regulation 25

[14] Regulation 26

[15] Regulation 23

[16] Regulations 12(e) and 13(f)


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