Road crossings are such a common occurrence on UK roads that you may well have seen the title of this article and scoffed before muttering to yourself “I’m pretty sure I know what they mean”. However, with six kinds of common crossings on UK roads – do the same rules apply for each? Are you really using them correctly, and if pressed, would you be able to properly identify them too?

If you’re unsure, then this piece aims to explain the rules for different crossing types such as Pelican, Zebra, Toucan and Puffin. You’ll find information for identifying each, as well as how to safely observe them.

Pelican crossings

First introduced in the UK in 1969 – and also known as pedestrian light-controlled crossings – pelican crossings were the first light-controlled crossing to be operated by pedestrians and controlled by traffic lights.

What do they look like?

Pelican crossings are identifiable from their zig-zag lines on either side of the road before and after a set of traffic lights.

How do they work?

When a pedestrian presses the traffic light’s button, they prompt the lights to switch to red. The red man signal, which of course is found on the opposite side of the road to where they are standing, turns to a green man, letting them know it’s safe to cross.

How should you approach them

​Where a pelican crossing goes straight across the road, even if there is a central refuge island, motorists are required by law to have finished crossing and for the light to be either flashing amber or green before proceeding.

If a crossing is staggered i.e. has two different sets of traffic lights and a pedestrian refuge area in the middle – the crossings are treated as separate.

And did you know, pelican crossings are the only variety which features a flashing amber light as part of its sequence.

Puffin crossings

Also known as Pedestrian User-Friendly Intelligent crossings, which is how they get their bird-like name (look at the first letters of each word), puffins are similar to pelicans but have the green and red man lights on the same side of the road the user is waiting to cross.

What do they look like?

Much like pelican crossings, they mark traffic lights by sets of zig-zag lines before and after on either side of the road.

How do they work?

Puffin crossings have two sensors on top of the traffic lights: a pedestrian crossing detector (PCD) and a pedestrian kerb detector (PKD).

These make the crossing more efficient by detecting whether pedestrians are crossing slowly – which prompts the crossing to hold the red traffic light longer. Interesting fact: if the pedestrian presses the control panel and crosses prematurely or walks off – the sensors will cancel the request.

How should you approach them?

Always be on the lookout for pedestrians when approaching puffin crossings. They don’t use the flashing amber traffic light and it’s possible that a pedestrian will randomly cross at a strange angle without triggering the sensor; take your time and be mindful of instances like this.

Zebra crossings

No surprises here – zebra crossings are the black and white walkways that span the width of the road they’re on.

What do they look like?

As well as their distinctive striping, you can tell a zebra crossing by its zig-zag lines on either side of the road, and it’s flashing amber globes on black and white posts. Bet you didn’t know these are actually known as Belisha beacons, did you?

How should you approach them?

The right of way is automatically given to pedestrians – there’s no light signal to control traffic flow. If the crossing is split with a pedestrian refuge in the middle, they should be treated as two separate crossings.

Drivers should make sure there are no pedestrians waiting to cross as they approach – take care to check both sides of the road and ensure they have finished crossing before driving on.

Toucan crossings

Similar to traditional pelican crossings, only with signals that allow cyclists to cross. Two can cross, toucan cross – get it? Good.

What do they look like?

You’ll notice toucan crossings because they have an additional signal for bikes, and are usually found on the outskirts of parks or cycle lanes and are wider than usual pelican and puffins crossings, typically around four metres.

How should you approach them?

No amber flashing light feature to be found here, so be aware of any cyclists who try to make a go of crossing the road as the lights change.

Pegasus crossings

As mythical as their namesake, the rarely seen Pegasus crossing is the least common type of crossing found on UK roads. Similar to toucan crossings, they differ in having a higher-placed control for horse riders to press, without the need to dismount.

What do they look like?

Usually found near parks and other areas popular with horse-riders. They’ll usually have additional safety features like fences or barriers. They tend to be wider than pedestrian-only crossings to keep vehicles a safe distance from horses.

How should you approach them?

Avoid revving your engine or making any sudden movements that may startle the horse and cause an accident. Leave plenty of room between your car and the crossing so that horses can cross the road safely and peacefully. When horse and rider have crossed, move on slowly so as not to startle them.

School crossings

Operated by the good old lollipop person, keeping children safe as they make their way to and from school.

How should you approach them?

First of all, it’s worth noting that under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, it is a criminal offence not to stop when a crossing guard signals for you to do so. Once the crossing guard has stepped into the road, motorists should stop, not proceeding until all pedestrians are safely across and back on the pavement.

Failing to follow these rules could result in a £1,000 fine, three penalty points or even driving disqualification. Cyclists should also dismount before using the crossing, too.

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