Pedestrian crossing confusion behind increase in accidents on UK roads

Drivers and pedestrians are equally unsure about the different kinds of pedestrian crossings and their rules.


Pedestrians are one of the most at risk groups on UK roads, according to the Department for Transport, with one fatality and 15 serious injuries every day.

And although the Highway Code is due to be reviewed to help protect pedestrians and cyclists, we’ve dealt with 5,723 claims in the past five years where a motorist has hit a pedestrian.

So why might this be happening? We decided to look at what could be causing these accidents – and it seems that not properly understanding pedestrian road crossings could be part of the problem.

Pedestrian casualties at road crossings

Rank Location % of pedestrian casualties on or within 50 metres of crossing
1 Pelican crossing 38%
2 Light controlled 31%
3 Zebra crossing 25%
4 Crossing with a human control 7%

We started by asking people about the different types of crossings. 25% of people surveyed didn’t know a zebra crossing while 79% couldn’t identify a pelican crossing. 92% couldn’t recognise a toucan crossing and 85% couldn’t tell the difference between a puffin and toucan crossing. If this applies to you too, take a look at our quick guide to the different types of pedestrian crossings below.  

It also seems pedestrians and drivers don’t understand the rules around crossings. The Highway Code states that pedestrians shouldn’t start to cross the road at a pelican crossing when the green man starts to flash – but we’ve found that two in five people think the flashing green man means you don’t have much time to cross and one in five people think you still have plenty of time to cross.

As well as there being a lack of understanding of the rules, both pedestrians and drivers confessed to just ignoring the signals at crossings. Almost 60% of pedestrians said they crossed despite the signal and more than 50% of drivers admitted to driving through amber lights at a pedestrian crossing.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the statistic above, as many as a third of pedestrians have had a near miss at a crossing, with 19% admitting they didn’t look properly and 10% revealing they were distracted by their phone. 10% of pedestrians admitted they ignored the signals but 40% blamed the driver of the car for not stopping.

A quarter of drivers admitted coming close to hitting a pedestrian at a designated crossing. Half of those stated the pedestrian stepped into the road before looking while a third said they didn’t see the pedestrian – with 13% confessing to being distracted by their phone. 

Top three reasons given for the near miss by road user

  Driver Pedestrian
1 The pedestrian didn’t look before crossing The driver was going too fast
2 The pedestrian ignored the crossing lights The driver didn't see them
3 The driver just didn’t see the pedestrian The driver didn't stop

Sabine Williams, head of motor at Admiral, says: “Having any sort of accident can be a frightening experience, but where a pedestrian is involved the implications can be devastating.

“What’s worrying about these findings is how little both drivers and pedestrians understand about the designated crossings and what the rules are for safely using them. More needs to be done to make sure all road users know what their responsibilities are when it comes to crossing so we can see a reduction in the number of accidents taking place.”

“In a media-led society we’re also urging pedestrians as well as drivers to stay vigilant in and around the road and avoid life altering distractions. No text message or tweet is more important that remembering the green cross code.”

Take a look at our infographic for more info on accidents at pedestrian crossings.

Quick guide to pedestrian crossings

Zebra crossing

A zebra crossing is made of white stripes across the road with flashing orange lights on poles at either side.


Pelican crossing

This crossing uses traffic lights to control the traffic. The pedestrian presses the button and the traffic lights change to red for a set time. The green man lights up indicating pedestrians should cross. 


Puffin crossing

This works in a similar way to a pelican crossing, but instead of the traffic lights changing for a set amount of time, sensors control how long the lights stay red. If more pedestrians are on the crossing, the traffic lights will stay red for longer.

Likewise if a pedestrian presses the button but then walks away, the sensors recognise this and the traffic lights won't switch to red and stop the traffic. 

Toucan crossing

Similar to a pelican crossing but slightly wider, toucan crossings are designed for cyclists to use alongside pedestrians without having to dismount. 

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