Monday, May 23, 2011

European Crossing Laws

A few months ago I posted about my experience walking in Munich, and my amazement at how drivers always stop for pedestrians waiting to cross the street. Turns out there's a strong legal incentive for that behavior in Germany, as well as in many other countries throughout Europe. With thanks to the folks on the America Walks listserve, here is a brief description of how pedestrian crossing laws in several European countries:

"At pedestrian crossings, vehicles other than railway vehicles must allow pedestrians and wheelchair users who visibly want to cross to use the crossing."(Highway Code 26) 

"Motor vehicle operators must yield to pedestrians and wheelchair users who are crossing at a zebra crossing or who appear to be about to do so."(Article 49, paragraph 2 of the Traffic Rules (RVV))

"Every motorist is obligated to yield, stopping if necessary, to a pedestrian regularly engaged in crossing a street or clearly manifesting the intention to do so ...." (This language was added in 2010, part of decree 2010-1390, Article 17)

 "Approaching a pedestrian crossing where traffic is not regulated [signalized], drivers shall yield priority to all pedestrians and wheelchair users who are already engaged on the crossing or who are waiting in front of it with the visible intention of using it." (Code 741.11, Article 6)

United Kingdom
As here in California, you have to step into the street to have priority. Instructions on the government's web site say to motorists, "As you approach a zebra crossing, look out for pedestrians waiting to cross and be ready to slow down or stop to let them cross," and instructions to pedestrians say "Remember that traffic does not have to stop until someone has moved onto the crossing. "

And in case you're wondering what the exact wording of the California law is, you can find the relevant parts of the California Vehicle Code here. Section 21950 covers right of way at pedestrian crossings:

(a) The driver of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection, except as otherwise provided in this chapter.

(b) This section does not relieve a pedestrian from the duty of using due care for his or her safety. No pedestrian may suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard. No pedestrian may unnecessarily stop or delay traffic while in a marked or unmarked crosswalk.

(c) The driver of a vehicle approaching a pedestrian within any marked or unmarked crosswalk shall exercise all due care and shall reduce the speed of the vehicle or take any other action relating to the operation of the vehicle as necessary to safeguard the safety of the pedestrian.

(d) Subdivision (b) does not relieve a driver of a vehicle from the duty of exercising due care for the safety of any pedestrian within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection.


  1. I don't think it's just a legal incentive though. I think it also has to do with the perceived relative importance of automobiles vs. pedestrians and whether walking is perceived as a respectable way to get around. Not all European countries do so well. I feel like I'm tempting fate when I cross a street in Italy or Spain.

    The perceived importance of automobiles also gives the motorist an edge when it comes to pedestrian/car crashes. The best way to get away with murder in the United States is to run your intended victim over as they cross the street.

  2. Good point. I imagine that transportation mode is not as closely linked to issues of class in Europe, as it is in other parts of the world. Sadly, in some countries pedestrians feel they deserve poor treatment at the hands (or is it wheels?) of motorists, because they're traveling on foot.