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image of someone crossing a road

I was crossing this road in London, going from the left pedestrian path to the island just like the person in the picture. There were 'look left' 'look right' signs written on the road. There were no pedestrian lights at this crossing so I assumed I had right of way and I crossed the road just as two cars were coming towards me. Both stopped but one honked loudly which startled me because I thought I had right of way. Was I in the wrong and in the future how should I cross this type of crossing?

Edit: the one that honked may have seen me much later than the other car because it was closer to the island

  • 85
    "Pedestrians have the right of way" is the rule of the road in many places. "Steel harder than flesh" and "Bigger smash smaller" is the rule of nature in all places. Tread carefully. – choster Sep 28 '18 at 14:28
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    Note that, formally speaking, there is no such thing as "right of way" in the UK. The relevant laws are summarized in the Highway Code: it will tell you that you must give way to others in certain circumstances, but it never says that somebody must give way to you. (Technically, the term "right of way" refers to a route that the public have the right to use but this isn't relevant here.) – David Richerby Sep 28 '18 at 14:34
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    Also, note that unlike some towns & cities in North America and other countries in Europe, there's no legal duty to use a pedestrian crossing, even if one is available. – origimbo Sep 28 '18 at 14:52
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    My local graveyard has a 20% off special for tombstones saying "he had the right of way" but only this year – PlasmaHH Sep 29 '18 at 8:19
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it’s not about traveling. – gmauch Oct 1 '18 at 2:01
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My understanding from the image is that you did not have right of way. In the UK pedestrians do have right of way at Zebra Crossings:

Rule 195 of the highway code states:

you MUST give way when a pedestrian has moved onto a crossing

Source: http://www.highwaycode.info/rule/195

However, you were not at a zebra crossing. These are marked by stripes on the road and beacons on the pavement. zebra crossing

You would also have right of way at a pelican crossing if you had a green light, but it sounds like this wasn't the case. Also, the lights in your image don't seem to show a pedestrian button, so at no point in this intersection would pedestrians have had the right of way. The look left/right markings on the road where likely a reminder when looking for traffic and not a right of way indicator.

That said, many social norms in Britain are often far more nuanced in reality then the law often makes it seem. It's hard to explain but there are plenty more unwritten rules as well. For example, I would expect any car to wave you across even if they have the right of way if they cannot clear the junction due to traffic opposite, but to the best of my knowledge there is no hard rule.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – JonathanReez Supports Monica Sep 29 '18 at 1:15
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    Of touristy interest, note that the photo in this answer shows not just any odd zebra crossing, but this zebra crossing from a slightly different angle than usual. – Henning Makholm Sep 29 '18 at 15:43
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    you where -> you were – Faheem Mitha Sep 30 '18 at 4:06
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    @Strawberry It may have moved, but the tourists haven't. Try taking the 139 or 189 buses at the wrong time of day... just as well to get out at Abbey Road zebra and try to find another bus. Endless queues of people holding up traffic snapping selfies who don't understand that traffic must give way to them... – J... Oct 1 '18 at 14:20
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    @Strawberry Whether its been moved is up for debate. – user71659 Oct 1 '18 at 18:01
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You didn't have right of way because this is not a pedestrian crossing - although it used to be (https://www.google.com/maps/@51.5013765,-0.1804682,3a,75y,348.21h,92.03t/data=!3m7!1e1!3m5!1s71sTcmXC_nAQ3xP2Av1EOw!2e0!5s20120401T000000!7i13312!8i6656). The pedestrian crossing is 20m further up - where that bus is. You weren't run over because you were in central London, where drivers are very used to tourists looking the wrong way, crossing against lights, etc.

Incidentally, when being run over, the self-satisfied knowledge of being 'in the right' is rarely much comfort.

  • 2
    Although to get to that crossing, one has to cross Queen's Gate, which does not have a lights-controlled crossing. – Tim Sep 28 '18 at 22:06
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    IME having the right of way, for example, on a zebra crossing, is scant guarantee of a car actually stopping for you in London anyway. – WhatEvil Sep 28 '18 at 23:25
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    Here lies Michael O'Day, who died defending his right-of-way. He was right, dead right, as he walked along, but he's just as dead as if he'd been wrong. – Beanluc Oct 1 '18 at 21:18
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    @Will Those annotations just tell you which direction the traffic is coming from, and have nothing to do with anything else – Lightness Races with Monica Oct 2 '18 at 15:51
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit providing this information pretty clearly serves to encourage people to use that spot as an uncontrolled pedestrian crossing (where pedestrians still aren't entitled to step in front of traffic). The removal of the markings implies pedestrians should no longer consider it a crossing at all, but this may not be relevant to the OP, since they report seeing the markings. – Will Oct 2 '18 at 16:28
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No, because of Rule 30 in the highway code for un-signalled crossings. This then refers you to Rule 7, The Green Cross Code. The part of this that applies here is part D,

D If traffic is coming, let it pass. Look all around again and listen. Do not cross until there is a safe gap in the traffic and you are certain that there is plenty of time. Remember, even if traffic is a long way off, it may be approaching very quickly.

A car would have to give way, if said car was already stopped, and a their light changed to green as you were in the action of crossing.


Edit: Whilst OP seems to be in the wrong here, as soon as they, a pedestrian, take a step onto the road, the driver of a vehicle is obliged to avoid a collision. In this sense, they "Give way" to the pedestrian/cyclist/sheep herds?

As per rule 152 of the highway code, you should be driving at a reasonable speed in built up areas, specifically for these kinds of occurrences.

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    "...if the cars were already stopped, and their light changed to green as you were in the action of crossing..." But don't expect drivers will bother much about that. They won't actually start off and drive over you, but the cars in the lanes both in front of and behind you will start on the green light, so you had better have an "exit strategy" planned before that happens! – alephzero Sep 28 '18 at 15:59
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    @vclaw That's not entirely true. If a statement in the highway code is phrased like "must" or "must not", then it is the law (or at least, has legal force). – origimbo Sep 30 '18 at 20:22
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    @alephzero - No. The cars should wait until you have safely crossed. Pedestrians have right of way over a vehicle when they are any non-motorway road. Your "exit strategy" is to carry on walking to the island clearly shown in OPs picture. – josh Sep 30 '18 at 22:18
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    Rule 170 also gives another example, besides zebra crossings of when a pedestrian has right of way that's commonly overlooked: "watch out for pedestrians crossing a road into which you are turning. If they have started to cross they have priority, so give way" – Flexo Oct 1 '18 at 8:01
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    Sorry, I think this answer ("No") is wrong. As vclaw says, the Highway code is not the law, and does not really apply to pedestians. And the Green Cross Code is entirely advisory. But @Josh, your comment just above is right: Pedestrians have priority (although a driver won't get into trouble if an accident was unavoidable) - and that seems to contradict your answer. Is it worth editing your answer to clarify? – SusanW Oct 1 '18 at 21:07
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No.

On a pedestrian crossing, pedestrians have the right of way when the light is green or there is no light at all.

In the absence of a pedestrian crossing, pedestrians usually do not have the right of way.

  • In many cases the shortest answer is the best. Such a case. – Fattie Sep 28 '18 at 18:44
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    In UK pedestrians still have priority at a pelican crossing when the red light for motorists has changed to a flashing amber light. – Weather Vane Sep 28 '18 at 19:03
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    It is worth adding that the structure in the photo is to temporarily provide a refuge for pedestrians in the process of crossing. It is not a structure that grants the pedestrian priority. – Douglas Held Sep 28 '18 at 21:19
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    "In the absence of a pedestrian crossing, pedestrians do not have the right of way." isn't correct in general. See Rule 170 here. There are probably other cases for which pedestrians have the right of way without pedestrian crossing. – Eric Duminil Sep 29 '18 at 14:53
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    @EricDuminil I've added the word "usually". The rule you link is interesting though, I was not aware of the "if they have started to cross" qualifier and that may explain disagreements I've previously had with motorists where I (a pedestrian) thought I had the right of way, but the turning motorist disagreed. – gerrit Sep 29 '18 at 15:17
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It seems unusual to me that there are no pedestrian lights here (perhaps it's because there's so little space on between roads on the side not shown in your image). Nevertheless, this is a major road (you can see on the google maps screenshot that it's labelled as an A-road, although this classification isn't often clearly visible in real life) and you absolutely do not have right of way there as a pedestrian.

The best way to cross here would be to use the pedestrian crossing visible just past the junction, but if you insist on crossing at that location you should do so in the same way you would cross a road anywhere else that doesn't have a pedestrian crossing. Wait at the side of the road until either:

  1. there is a long enough gap in traffic for you to cross safely, or
  2. the traffic is stopped due to a red light.
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    There are no lights here because there is a pedestrian crossing nearby (next to the red bus) - and that crossing is next to the bus stop because there are probably bus passengers wanting to cross the road every time a bus stops there, compared with the occasional "random" pedestrian like the OP. – alephzero Sep 28 '18 at 16:08
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As a UK pedestrian and driver, I would add the driver's perspective and norms, to the excellent description of the Highway Code in other answers.

In general, drivers would not be required to stop for a pedestrian other than

  • when they have to stop anyway, or are ordered to stop (e.g., traffic lights, police officer, emergency services),
  • at a zebra crossing,
  • to avoid an actual accident/injury (perhaps due to some careless/unthinking/unaware person, animal or obstruction on the road or appearing to be about to walk on the road, or someone who has clearly already begun to cross the road before the vehicle was present).

Also in general, all road users should act in ways that reduce the chances of accidents. So both drivers and pedestrians should be watchful, and they should not act in ways that force other road-users to take abrupt or emergency avoidance actions to prevent an accident (such as abruptly running into oncoming traffic, or crossing a junction/overtaking where other traffic will have to brake sharply).

Beyond that minimum standard, the social expectation is that pedestrians are expected to be responsible too - they can cross as they like, but should do so in a way that other road users don't have to take emergency avoiding action, and avoid creating a significant risk of an accident. So they should cross where it's more visible, check for traffic, make sure they act in a way that traffic can see and anticipate their intention and actions, and so on.

Within those expectations, a pedestrian can pretty much cross any road anywhere (except a motorway which should be pedestrian-free).

The only other social expectation is that some drivers, and some pedestrians, will be courteous and indicate that the other should go ahead.

But "waving someone on" is a social courtesy only, and the other person (driver or pedestrian) should still check it's safe before doing so, in case there are other pedestrians or oncoming drivers who have not seen them, and an accident would be caused. Therefore as a rule, drivers often do not indicate to pedestrians to cross, in situations where another car driving in a different lane might not see the pedestrian walking out in front of the first car, and hit them. That risk is lower if there is only one lane, however, so in that situation it's more common.

  • I believe that the driver is not meant to "wave on" the pedestrian. The driver can stop to let the pedestrian cross but should not wave or signal to the pedestrian to cross. You can fail the driving test for doing this. The theory is that there might be other reasons why it's unsafe to cross, which the driver cannot see. – Ed Avis Oct 1 '18 at 8:54
  • Yes. I did say that they should check in case of unseen dangers, and that as a rule drivers don't wave on, except perhaps on quiet local roads with little risk. But what you say is correct, the rule is more restrictive, and drivers should not do so. My bad - I was focused on what is seen, and in practice drivers may wave on a pedestrian who looks in need of extra reassurance that the driver is happy to wait if they need a longer time than normal (eg, standing on an island, or visible disability). But for reasons you state, they probably should not do so, and you're right to correct that point. – Stilez Oct 1 '18 at 9:34
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Other answers have covered the legalities & social niceties of crossing in London, so I shan't go back over that ground, but for anyone crossing at lights with no pedestrian signals [green man/red man] then this one is your life-saving clue... the circled light below.
It may seem counter-intuitive to rely on looking away from the oncoming traffic, but that light way over there is a mirror of the ones you can't see [because they are hooded so only the oncoming traffic can see their own light], right where you want to cross.

enter image description here

That one tells you the traffic in the lane where the person is crossing must stop anyway - which whilst it doesn't give the pedestrian 'right of way' does mean that no-one is going to drive through on that lane at that time.

But - check the van opposite... Within seconds of your 'safe light' he will get his green & be away, so you have no "cross in one go" strategy at this type of junction. You have to wait until that t-junction stops releasing traffic; which may happen before the lights change again, but may not.
If you set off across the 2nd segment once that is clear, keep your eye on the circled light, because that will go green & let both lanes loose, behind you & in front.
..but that's your gap. Use it wisely.

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It's a subtle point, but most laws in most countries do not explicitly grant the right-of-way in any absolute sense to anyone. Instead, the laws are written such that under specific conditions, one party must yield the right-of-way to another party. If they fail to do so, the first party is breaking the law.

So you can't walk around a city as a pedestrian assuming that everything you do is automatically OK. There are laws that apply to pedestrians, too, such as crossing traffic only at marked crossings. But marked crossing or not, if you step out into traffic without allowing sufficient space ahead of oncoming traffic, you can expect to get honked at (or hit, if they can't avoid you). In that case, you're the one at fault, not them.

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    Since the question is explicitly about London, it should be pointed out that there is no law in the UK requiring pedestrians to use only marked crossings. – David Richerby Sep 28 '18 at 16:06
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    That reminds me of a bit of verse about a motorist which could be adapted for pedestrians: "Here lies the body of Thaddeus Jay. He died defending his right of way. He was right--dead right--as he sped along. But he's just as dead as if he'd been wrong". – supercat Sep 28 '18 at 16:08
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    @supercat Since the question is explicitly about London, it should be pointed out that there is no person in the UK called Thaddeus. ;-) – David Richerby Sep 28 '18 at 16:12
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    @DavidRicherby there are at least 6 people in the UK named Thaddeus Cox so they must be plentiful with other surnames! – Weather Vane Sep 28 '18 at 19:18
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As a London resident, although unfamiliar with this particular crossing, I see crossings like this all the time.

There are some very good and informative answers here already so I just want to add my short answer.

When crossing the street anywhere in the UK (especially big cities), unless you see horizontal stripes on the road (zebra crossings) it is best practice to wait for the traffic lights to turn red.

Not all crossings will have a button for pedestrians so, unless there is no traffic, just play it safe and wait.

As already pointed out though, in this particular case, it would have been best to just walk a little further down the street to use the pedestrian crossing there.

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