Road crossing safety: sharing our space

Now is a good time to remind ourselves of The Highway Code when it comes to crossings, how to observe the law and stay safe when it comes to pedestrians and drivers sharing our spaces.

Who has the right of way at road crossings?

Many more of us are choosing to walk more to get around safely while the borough continues to recover from the pandemic, plus it’s the easiest way to stay active and maintain a healthy weight during this difficult time.

Now is a good time to remind ourselves of The Highway Code when it comes to crossings, how to observe the law and stay safe when it comes to all road users sharing our spaces.

When pedestrians DO have right of way

  • If a person has started to cross a road at a junction and a driver wants to turn into that road the pedestrian has priority and the driver should give way (see Highway Code Rule 8)
  • A driver MUST give way when a pedestrian has moved onto a Zebra Crossing (Highway Code Rule 195)
  • When the amber light is flashing on a signal controlled pelican crossing, a driver MUST give way to any people on the crossing (and when the red light shows, see Highway Code Rule 196)

If the driver has right of way, can a collision be the fault of the person on foot?

A driver might still be to blame even if they crashes into a pedestrian even when a driver has right of way.

This is because the law recognizes that driving a car or motorbike always puts other people at risk and people on foot are the most vulnerable of all road users (see Highway Code Rule 204)

Accordingly, drivers are always under a heavy duty of care.

Highway Code Rule 206 gives some good examples of situations in which drivers with right of way should be extra vigilant, such as passing parked vehicles (e.g. ice cream vans or a bus waiting at a stop).

Another good example would be a zebra crossing where a pedestrian is clearly likely to be using it but has yet to step forward onto it. In that scenario, the person on foot does not have right of way but an approaching driver should not think they are entitled to assume the person definitely won’t step out.

As a rule of thumb in any situation, if a driver could or should have anticipated it was likely the pedestrian might step into the road, they must drive with proportionate caution.

What about priority on roads without a pavement?

Pedestrians are entitled to walk on country lanes and other roads which have no pavement, however they have a duty to take reasonable care for their own safety.

In the UK, we drive on the left and the Highway Code recommends that pedestrians should keep to the right (facing oncoming traffic) but cross over at right hand bends to the left so that the oncoming traffic retains maximum visibility. Also recommended is walking in single file and wearing safety (high visibility and reflective) clothing is recommended (see Rule 2).

When pedestrians DON’T have right of way

Pedestrians don’t have any right of way on motorways. In fact, walking isn’t allowed on motorways or slip roads except in an emergency. This includes when your car breaks down and you need to use the emergency telephone on the hard shoulder. Even then, people should keep walking to a minimum and try to keep as far away from the motorway lanes as possible.

As for the motorway driver who notices the presence of pedestrians, the same duties arise as are outlined above.

Real life vs Highway Code

Regardless of what the Highway Code says, the person on foot will always come off worst in a collision with a heavy, moving vehicle. Having the right of way will be of little consolation from a hospital bed.

Just as the driver has to anticipate the possibility of the pedestrian not conceding right of way, the sensible person on foot needs to be aware that there are drivers who will do likewise.

Stop ! – Look ! – Listen ! and if in doubt, don’t step out.


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