They’ve been a staple on our roads for 60 years and they became a style icon in the late ’60s, thanks to The Beatles. But does a fall in numbers and a rise in accidents mean that the humble zebra crossing’s had its day?
Do you step out confidently on to a zebra crossing, or wait tentatively until drivers have showed signs of slowing down? I’m definitely in the second camp – and my nervousness is getting worse.
I’ve noticed – and mentally clocked – the number of times cars have sped straight through the black and white lines, despite seeing me waiting patiently.
There’s one crossing near my house that is particularly bad for this. It’s on a two-lane one-way system at a point where drivers have just picked up speed and are reluctant to slow back down again. But rules are rules – and they state that pedestrians should have the right of way when on a zebra crossing.
Much as I’ve muttered many a swear word under my breath at such drivers, I’ve never thought much more about the subject until earlier this week. Britain’s zebra crossings celebrated their 60th birthday on Monday – but there wasn’t a great deal to celebrate.
The cost of saving lives
Since 2007, the number of deaths on crossings has doubled – with five people dying last year and a further 144 seriously hurt. The crossings themselves have also been declining in numbers. Over 1,000 have been removed over the past five years, and you’ve probably noticed many others being replaced with alternatives that have lights and flashing signs.
But this level of sophistication comes at quite a cost. Pelican and puffin crossings – which are part-operated by pedestrians – cost £35,000, making the humble zebra look positively cheap at £10,000. This is an issue that our Senior Cars Researcher, Dave Evans, raised when I asked his opinion of the declining trend:
‘Zebra crossings are a great, low cost method of allowing pedestrians to cross busy roads, and they usually don’t unduly interrupt traffic flow. But they do rely on motorists to obey the simple guidelines – giving way to those on foot, no overtaking of waiting traffic, and no stopping within the zigzag zone (unless allowing someone to cross).
‘Driver education is what is needed and not the complex and expensive alternatives like pelicans, puffins and tigers. I say long live the zebra!’
Can we save the zebra?
I have to say I agree with Dave – but obviously they need to work harder to survive. So what’s the answer? One suggested reason for drivers failing to stop is that the fines for doing so are lower in the UK than elsewhere in Europe. Fail to stop here and you’ll face a £60 fine – do the same in Belgium and it could cost you up to £2,000.
Much as I’d like to see these crossings enjoy a revival, I can’t help but think there’s a better way. Stephen Glaister of the RAC Foundation raises a good point that ‘the important thing is to put in the right crossing at the right place,’ he says, which is definitely part of the problem with that hellish crossing near me.
Better driver education, higher fines and more appropriately placed crossings – could this be the magic combination to help zebras back into the limelight? I hope there is a solution and a future awaits us where we can confidently see zebra crossings as a safe place to get across the road.
Do you feel safe using zebra crossings?
Only if I can see cars are slowing down before I cross (85%, 224 Votes)
Yes, it's my right of way so I expect traffic to stop (14%, 37 Votes)
No, I avoid them if I can (2%, 4 Votes)
Total Voters: 265