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The rights you didn't know pedestrians have

Carlton Boyce / 26 April 2017 ( 25 July 2019 )

The law gives pedestrians a number of rights in the UK, some of which might come as a bit of a surprise…

A car stops at a zebra crossing to represent the rights of pedestrians

Walking is possibly the finest exercise in the world, and there is nothing I would rather do than spend a few hours in the mountains stretching my legs and gulping down deep lungfuls of bracing winter air.

I’d also generally rather walk around a city than use a taxi, bus or train – and not only for health and financial reasons; most cities are surprisingly compact and there is no better way to orientate yourself than on foot.

Walking is also the oldest form of transport, a fact that is recognised in an extraordinary number of laws: here are just a few you need to be aware of as a motorist in order to stay on the right side of the law, and your fellow perambulating human beings.

The rights you didn't know cyclists have

Zebra crossings

Pedestrians have the right of way on a zebra crossing, so a driver must give way to them once they have stepped on to it and hitting a pedestrian on a zebra crossing is known as a ‘strict liability offence’.

So drivers should always approach a zebra crossing with caution and assume that any pedestrians near it could step out at any moment.

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The difference between a zebra, pelican, puffin and toucan crossing

By the way, do you know the difference between a zebra, pelican, puffin and toucan crossing?

Well, a zebra crossing has black and white stripes on the road (hence the name) and flashing amber beacons on the pavement. A zebra crossing relies on approaching vehicles stopping when they see a pedestrian either waiting to cross the road or actually in the act of crossing.

A pelican crossing, on the other hand, has the approaching vehicles controlled by traffic lights. Pedestrians waiting to cross must only start to do so when the green man is illuminated; if the green man is flashing you can continue to cross if you have already started but must not start to cross the road as you may not have enough time to do so safely.

A puffin crossing is the same as a pelican crossing but the traffic lights are controlled by sensors rather than timers. So while the time a pedestrian has to cross a pelican crossing is fixed, a puffin crossing takes the volume of people using it into account and will only turn the traffic lights green again when the crossing is clear. For this reason, a puffin crossing does not have a flashing green man phase.

Toucan crossing are wider than any of the previous types and are designed to allow pedestrians and cyclists to cross together. Also, whereby cyclists should dismount to cross either a zebra, pelican or puffin crossing, they can ride across a toucan.

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Side roads

Rule 170 of the Highway Code advises that if a pedestrian has already started to cross the side road into which you’re turning from a main road, you must give way to them.


Jaywalking, the American term for crossing a road at a point other than at a designated crossing, is perfectly legal in the United Kingdom.

This one fact alone causes more trouble for Brits abroad than almost anything else…

7 things to remember when driving abroad

The right not to get wet

A driver may be committing an offence if they deliberately splash a pedestrian with water from a puddle. It’s considered ‘careless and inconsiderate driving’ and can land you with a fixed penalty notice.

And it’s just not a nice thing to do.

Freedom of movement

A pedestrian is free to walk along the side of any carriageway other than a motorway or a motorway slip road (although whether they should if there is a footpath nearby is a matter for debate) unless a police officer in uniform is directing traffic. If they order a pedestrian to stop, then the pedestrian must do so.

A police constable may also demand the pedestrian’s name and address if they fail to stop when ordered to do so, and refusing to provide them is another offence.

So, in theory, you could commit two crimes by simply walking down the road…


This one won’t affect you if you’re in your car, but I thought it was interesting enough to include: a farmer can plough a footpath if it crosses the middle of a field, but he/she must reinstate it – to a minimum width of one metre – within 14 days.

Nor can a farmer grow crops other than grass across a footpath or graze a dairy bull older than ten months in a field where a right of way exists.

As a driver, it’s important to not only ensure that you’re aware of pedestrian rights, but also that your car has the best insurance available. Find out more about how we can help and what we offer with Saga Car Insurance today!

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.