16

The following scenario has happened almost every day to me during my time in London, UK:

I'm walking straight and am about to cross a street that goes orthogonal to my direction, without a traffic light or zebra crossing. A car that first goes parallel on the street next to me wants to turn into that orthogonal street. As I'm crossing the street (A) the car stops abruptly and the driver looks angrily or honks at me or (B) the car just keeps going and I have to dart out of its way in the last moment.

Just today, variant (B) happened to me with a TfL bus.

Where I come from, the drivers are at fault in this scenario and I would yell at them. Before I do that in the UK: what is the law there?

  • 4
    Relavent highway code: Rules 7 and 8 for you, and Rule 170 for vehicles. I don't believe we the question "who is at fault" is answerable as we don't have the information on the actual situation of the junction (if you are crossing at a blind spot, if the vehicle driver is being aggressive as a typical London driver etc.). – B.Liu May 31 at 8:21
  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Willeke Jun 1 at 16:39
  • 1
    An important point, missing from all the answers below, is that a car driver has had to pass a test to demonstrate he knows the rules of the road and can apply them. He is also duty-bound to be sober and in a fit state to drive. The law places no such restrictions on a pedestrian, who is under no obligation to have read the Highway Code. – Oscar Bravo Jun 3 at 9:15
  • @OscarBravo although there are laws against causing a nuisance and being drunk in public. – Tim Jun 3 at 9:19
  • 1
    You've accepted an answer that makes you feel happy that you're in the right and everyone else in the wrong. But please take the time to read Mark's answer which gives important information that Nick C missed, and the very good final paragraph from flyto that puts in plain English how these rules play out. – AndyT Jun 3 at 10:57
66

Rule 170 of the highway code is very clear on this:

watch out for pedestrians crossing a road into which you are turning. If they have started to cross they have priority, so give way

So provided you have already started crossing, they are required to stop for you. If you have not already started, then you should wait for them to pass first.

However I wouldn't rely on road users (either drivers or cyclists) in London actually obeying the rules...

  • 19
    Rule 170 starts with "you should" rather than "you must" indicating that it isn't explicitly backed up by a law – Miff May 31 at 9:13
  • 5
    @Bananach There is also the principle that drivers should take extra care of vulnerable road users (like pedestrians). Even if you stepped into the road after they started turning, it would be their fault if their hit you, because they are supposed to keep looking into the road they are turning into. – MJeffryes May 31 at 9:30
  • 7
    @Bananach if you cause an incident when in breach of the Highway Code you fall foul of the catch-all "driving without due care and attention". – Weather Vane May 31 at 9:50
  • 5
    @Bananach I wouldn't agree with that. The Code is written as precisely as it can be, given the wide variety of situations it has to cover; in this case, as has been noted, the Code is clear that the traffic turning has priority as long as you're on the kerb (so you shouldn't start to cross if someone's about to turn in) but if you've lawfully started crossing you have priority over any traffic that then arrives with a view to turning in. Failure to observe the recommendations of the Code, as it itself notes, can result in liability in the event of any subsequent accident. – MadHatter supports Monica May 31 at 12:50
  • 25
    The HC is written to be understandable to all. AIUI when it says you "must" do something, it is illegal not to do it. When the HC says you "should" do something, failure to do that thing is not in itself a crime, but if you cause an accident while not doing it you'd better have a good explanation. – Flyto May 31 at 16:50
35

American in London for 14 years. The mystery has finally broken for me on this topic, quite recently. First let me say that every other answer is completely correct. But, none of them really unravel the mystery of the cultural difference. When I first arrived here, I was alarmed that it seemed pedestrians "yield right-of-way to cars". This is a big misrepresentation. Let us look at history.

Roads were originally for walking, and later, the occasional horse and/or carriages at or close to walking speed. Then, bicycles and motor cars arrived, eventually traveling significantly faster than foot traffic. The crux of London road use is that nothing ever fundamentally changed: all traffic is road traffic and all users are expected to watch out for their own safely and the safety of others. This includes responsibilities of pedestrians as well as responsibilities of vehicle operators.

The UK driving manual even includes a section on the responsibilities of foot traffic. See https://www.gov.uk/guidance/the-highway-code/rules-for-pedestrians-1-to-35

What follows naturally from this is, by stepping into the path of an oncoming car, you have inconvenienced that driver by causing him to slow down - and also making him fear for the possibility of a traumatic collision. Try this with another pedestrian, perhaps at the shopping mall? Turn suddenly and step directly in the path of your neighbour, close enough that they can not be reasonably expected to stop before bumping you. The reaction will be anger. And this is exactly what the London driver feels when you encroach on his otherwise peaceful, non-murderous driving. Legally, he is compelled to stop for you, but it is rude that you have inconvenienced him. In a British face-to-face situation, you would have immediately apologized, and he would have apologized in return to de-escalate the situation.

There is a stark contrast in history with what happened on American roads. The motor cars arrived, became faster, and the legislation followed. They created crosswalks, pedestrian traffic signals, and jaywalking laws to essentially outlaw walking on the road. It's important to note that although various pedestrian crossing systems and refuge structures arrived in the UK road system, none of them replaced the original and natural right to walk in the road. (That only happened when the Motorway was introduced. Pedestrians and certain categories of vehicles and drivers are simply not allowed on the motorway.)

Now if you dear reader have learned something from the above, then read the other answers and comments and you may begin to understand the principles of road use and how they derive from face-to-face conventions.

This is part of a much greater cultural difference: that of rules-based vs. principles-based systems. In American law and accounting, almost everything is rules-based.

  • 10
    Perfect answer. Yes, it's cultural indeed. We don't have guns, but we feel morally obliged to blow our horn at you whilst screeching unnecessarily dramatically to a halt, for stepping into the road without a look or a care, see if we don't ;) – Tetsujin Jun 1 at 14:23
  • 2
    I saw this the other way round, moving from London to California. I had been taught from infancy that responsibility for road safety was shared by all road users, including pedestrians, and I had to be careful when crossing roads. – Patricia Shanahan Jun 1 at 14:55
  • 2
    As another Brit living in California, this is an excellent answer, that I've come to understand by reflecting on the reverse differences where I am now in CA. Off-topic, but the "rules-based" vs "principles-based" difference is perhaps best exemplified by the fact that the USA has a specific written-down constitution, and the UK does not. – Stuart J Cuthbertson Jun 1 at 23:48
  • 2
    I think I understood what you said but I'm still a little confused. Since the road belongs the everyone, shouldn't the London driver then expect to slow down or stop for "jaywalking" pedestrians? Assuming the pedestrian gives sufficient warning and doesn't suddenly leap out in front of him. On the other hand, the American driver should feel righteous anger when a pedestrian crosses where there is no crosswalk. The rules say he has to stop so he won't honk but he has the right to be displeased right? – hojusaram Jun 2 at 7:48
  • 3
    It's probably more accurate to say that drivers are compelled by law avoid hitting pedestrians if it is possible to do so. If you need to swerve to avoid then that's fine, if it's impossible to avoid, such as if the pedestrian literally jumped in front of you, you will likely not be held responsible. – Kaithar Jun 2 at 9:03
28

Nick C has answered from a legal perspective.

In terms of everyday norms in London, if there is not a marked crossing, you should wait for a safe gap in the traffic. There is no special status for intersections, unlike (for example) some American cities.

If, when you arrive at the side road, you see that a car on the main road is planning to turn, you should wait. If there is no evidence that any cars are planning to turn, it is reasonable to cross.

  • 11
    I can't find any online source now, but as a child in the UK I remember it being strongly encouraged to walk a bit down the side road before crossing it, rather than crossing at the junction. – Peter Green May 31 at 20:29
  • 1
    @PeterGreen yes, I was also taught to avoid crossing close to junctions - although somewhere like London, that would make it very hard to walk along a main street that had side roads. – Flyto May 31 at 20:44
  • 6
    @Martha: ...and meanwhile here in Finland, my mind boggles at the very idea of an intersection without a marked pedestrian crossing, like the OP seems to describe. I mean, dirt roads out in the countryside, sure, those don't have marked crossings, but a street in an urban area... if there are sidewalks on both sides, there's pretty much always a zebra crossing connecting them. I can think of only a few exceptions around here, where e.g. a four way intersection has only three zebra crossings, and those are all places where it's pretty clear that you shouldn't try to cross there anyway. :/ – Ilmari Karonen May 31 at 23:40
  • 6
    @Martha jaywalking doesn't exist in the UK, something which has gotten me into trouble in other countries before! :-) (I assumed that because "jaywalking" is an American word, it only applies in America. How wrong I was...) – Aaron F Jun 1 at 0:35
  • 2
    @PatriciaShanahan, that's absolutely correct. In California there's legally an "unmarked crosswalk" anywhere two streets with sidewalks meet (assuming no signs saying not to cross). – The Photon Jun 1 at 14:58
15

Nick's answer is only partially correct. He has quoted the rules for motor vehicles. There are several other parts of the highway code that apply here.

Section 7 - part of Green cross code

B Stop just before you get to the kerb, where you can see if anything is coming. Do not get too close to the traffic. If there’s no pavement, keep back from the edge of the road but make sure you can still see approaching traffic.
C Look all around for traffic and listen. Traffic could come from any direction. Listen as well, because you can sometimes hear traffic before you see it.
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.

Rule 8

Rule 8 At a junction. When crossing the road, look out for traffic turning into the road, especially from behind you. If you have started crossing and traffic wants to turn into the road, you have priority and they should give way (see Rule 170).

So if you see a car or bus is to turn into the road you stop.

In the cases you mentionm yes you have priority but you should not have started either.

12

In this the UK is completely different from most European countries: in practice, a pedestrian is not accorded priority over a car turning into a side street, whatever the Highway Code may say.

If you want to live a long and happy life, you must get used to it, I'm afraid.

  • But if you get hit by a car, there's a good chance the driver would be considered at fault. It's better not to get hit by a car, of course :) – John_ReinstateMonica Jun 1 at 2:57
  • @John - not if you walked straight out without looking. The driver would need dash-cam to prove it, but it would certainly be the pedestrian's fault if he just stepped out. – Tetsujin Jun 1 at 14:34
  • 3
    Having lived in one continental European country and visited several others often and some more once or twice and being a regular visitor in the UK I would not say the UK is different in how traffic works in daily use. Look out for traffic before you step off the road. Show you are ready to cross before you step out and you will find many drivers stop for you but some will not. Then cross with caution. But do remember which side the traffic comes from, or better, always expect traffic from either side. – Willeke Jun 2 at 15:27
  • 1
    My country of home is the Netherlands and you do look out here before you cross the road. While in smaller towns in the UK you can quite often trust drivers to stop (looking at how to locals act). – Willeke Jun 2 at 16:19
  • 1
    @Bernhard No, we don't just step out in front of traffic in the UK and expect it to stop for us. And as drivers we'd be annoyed if someone did that, particularly if they didn't even bother looking. It is normal for pedestrians to cross on red lights, yes, but only when it's safe to do so, i.e. when there's no traffic or when they expect to make it across without interrupting the flow of traffic. – Rup Jun 3 at 15:31
8

Less law, more from experience... In general, if you obstruct a vehicle turning in to a road you can expect the driver to be irritated.

  1. As a pedestrian entering the road you are expected to be aware of your surroundings. If you are obstructing a junction you'll be interpreted as either not being aware or intentionally obstructing the driver.
  2. If a turning vehicle is obstructed, the road they are turning out of is also obstructed by you. A lot of people are being held up by your action.
  3. A driver might assume that you wouldn't have entered the road if you didn't expect to be clear by the time they turned, in which case they'll keep moving.
  4. A vehicle that has to act to avoid you may force other vehicles to act suddenly as well.
0

Answers to this earlier question are quite relevant here: in UK you have the right of way on a zebra crossing or when you have a green light. If the place merely looks like a pedestrian path, it doesn't automatically grant you priority.

It's also common sense to cross the road a bit further from a junction rather than right next to the junction, in order to give drivers a little more time to react.

  • I dispute this "common sense". If you cross at the junction, you can see all the traffic on the main road and where it's going. If you cross a little way down the side-street, you can see much less of the road. – David Richerby Jun 3 at 12:39
  • @DavidRicherby I meant this more from the driver's perspective. There's a difference between what a driver can see and what a driver will likely see and react upon. I mean, one can see what's in the "blind spots", they are called that not because there's something blocking the view there but because you have to actively look in a blind spot to see anything and so objects there are easy to miss. But I agree with your point: if you as a pedestrian wait until there's no traffic on the main street that's likely to turn, it's safer to cross right next to the road. – Dmitry Grigoryev Jun 3 at 13:20

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.