Pedestrian crossings: pelican, puffin, toucan and zebra crossings explained

Toucan. Puffin. Pelican. Zebra. No, not a random list of exotic birds and a stripy horse, but some of the types of pedestrian crossing you will come across on UK roads. But what exactly are these crossings and how should drivers interact with them?

Here is the carwow guide to everything you need to know about pedestrian crossings.

  • Zebra crossings
  • Pelican crossings
  • Puffin crossings
  • Toucan crossings
  • School warden crossings
  • Equestrian crossings
  • Pedestrian crossings FAQs

Zebra crossings

Perhaps the best-known type of pedestrian crossing, a Zebra crossing is marked by black and stripes on the road. Hence the name. Flashing yellow beacons on black and white striped poles signal the crossing to approaching drivers.

Zebra crossings are not controlled by traffic lights. If pedestrians are waiting to cross, drivers must stop to allow them to cross. Once pedestrians have cleared the crossing, drivers can move on.

Pelican crossings

Pelican crossings are controlled by traffic lights. Pedestrians press a button to request a crossing and wait for the green man to indicate that they can cross. Simultaneously, the traffic lights will turn to red, signalling approaching traffic to stop.

While the green man is still showing, a flashing amber light will show on the traffic light. If pedestrians are still on the crossing at this point, or approaching, drivers must remain stationary. If the crossing is clear, drivers can move on.

Even if the traffic light has turned green, drivers must wait for the crossing to be completely clear before moving on.

Puffin crossings

Puffin crossings are fundamentally the same as Pelican crossings, except they use ‘intelligent’ signals. A Pelican crossing cycle works according to set timings; Puffin crossings use sensors to determine when the crossing is clear. Thus, if one person crosses quickly, traffic will only be stationary briefly. If lots of pedestrians cross slowly, traffic will be stationary longer.

Many local councils in the UK are replacing existing Pelican crossings with Puffin crossings to improve traffic flow, especially in places prone to queues.

Toucan crossings

Toucan crossings are incorporated into cycle routes. As such, they allow cyclists to cross without dismounting, as they should at other crossings. They are controlled by Pelican- or Puffin-type signals and drivers should treat them as they would any other signal-controlled crossing.

Toucan crossings are also incorporated into many signal-controlled road junctions, usually crossroads. A green cycle signal shows before the main green light, giving cyclists some time to get ahead of any vehicles. This reduces the risk of cyclists getting injured or killed tangling with vehicles. A relatively recent development, this type of crossing is becoming more common and will likely become a standard feature of all major road junctions.

School warden crossings

These are the domain of the iconic lollipop lady/man. At times when schools open and close, a warden will be stationed on the road outside the school to control traffic, allowing pedestrians to cross the road. They stand at the side of the road wearing a hi-vis jacket and holding a stop sign at the end of a long red and white striped pole. Be prepared to stop if you see one.

The warden will usually indicate to approaching traffic that they intend to enter the road, or else just step out. When this happens, drivers must stop, leaving plenty of space for pedestrians. They can only move on once the warden has cleared the road.

Equestrian crossings

This is a signal-controlled crossing specifically for horses. They are quite rare and most likely to be seen in rural areas, after a ‘horses crossing’ road sign. Drivers should treat them as they would any other signal-controlled crossing. And, of course, not do anything that might startle horses on or near the crossing.

The button to activate the traffic lights is high up on a pole a few metres from the lights so riders don’t have to get off their horse to press.

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Frequently asked questions about pedestrian crossings

What do I do if the crossing has a central island?
Central islands occur on all the types of crossing detailed above. Such crossings are, in effect, two separate crossings.
At such crossings with signals, drivers and pedestrians must obey the signals. It is worth noting that, if pedestrians are crossing the on-coming lane, it is likely that the signals are about to change and drivers approaching should be prepared to stop.

At such crossings without signals, drivers should stop for pedestrians waiting to cross their lane. They do not have to stop for pedestrians waiting to cross the opposite lane. But be aware that a pedestrian on the opposite side may try to run across without stopping on the island, as they should.

Can I park at a crossing?

White, zig-zag lines run along the side and down the middle of the road for a distance either side of any pedestrian crossing. Drivers cannot park in those areas unless there is an emergency. Even outside those areas, it is prudent not to park near a crossing if doing so would create an obstruction that would impact the safety of the crossing.

Can I signal to pedestrians that they can cross the road?
Strictly speaking, no.

At a Zebra crossing, simply stopping is sufficient indication that pedestrians can cross. Stopping to allow pedestrians to cross where there is no marked crossing, or at a signal-controlled crossing showing a green light to traffic, impedes traffic flow, which the Highway Code prohibits.

At any type of crossing, it is ultimately up to the pedestrian when they cross. A driver may think it is safe, but they might not. So be patient.

Equally, be patient when pedestrians are crossing. Elderly and disabled people might have difficulty walking, and anyone with young children will know how hard it can be to get them to move quickly. Drivers should never try to hurry pedestrians up and only move on once the crossing is completely clear. Of course, it can be frustrating when someone takes an age to cross the road. But drivers have a duty to be patient as cars are dangerous things that can easily kill a pedestrian.

As in all aspects of driving, obeying the Highway Code around crossings will ensure that you do not get into trouble and avoid any fines/points/prison time that would result from not doing so.