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A zebra crossing is a type of pedestrian crossing used in many places around the world. Its distinguishing feature is alternating dark and light stripes on the road surface, from which it derives its name. A zebra crossing typically gives extra rights of way to pedestrians.
The crossing is characterised by longitudinal stripes on the road, parallel to the flow of the traffic, alternately a light colour and a dark one. The similarity of these markings to those of a zebra give the crossing's name. The light colour is usually white and the dark colour may be painted – in which case black is typical – or left unpainted if the road surface itself is dark. The stripes are typically 40 to 60 centimetres (16 inches to 2 feet) wide. In countries such as the United Kingdom, zebra markings give pedestrians permanent right of way. In other countries they are also used on pedestrian crossings controlled by traffic signals, and pedestrians have priority only when the lights show green to pedestrians.
After isolated experiments, the zebra crossing was first used at 1000 sites in the UK in 1949 in its original form of alternating strips of blue and yellow, and a 1951 measure introduced them into law. In 1971, the Green Cross Code was introduced to teach children safer crossing habits, replacing the earlier "kerb drill".
In the United Kingdom the crossing is marked with Belisha beacons, flashing amber globes on black and white posts on each side of the road, named after Leslie Hore-Belisha, the Minister of Transport, who introduced them in 1934. The crossings were originally marked by beacons and parallel rows of studs, and the stripes were added for visibility some 15 years later.
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In the United Kingdom, lollipop men or women (crossing guards) frequently attend zebra crossings near schools, at the hours when schoolchildren arrive and leave. Their widely used nickname arose because of the warning sign they hold up as they stop traffic. It's a large round disc on a long pole and thus resembles a giant lollipop.
In North America, zebra crossings are almost exclusively called (marked) crosswalks and often do not incorporate stripes. In some areas, marked crosswalks are the only places where it is legal to cross the road.
In New Zealand, motorists are required to give way to pedestrians. In Auckland, pedestrians wishing to cross the road within 20 meters of a crossing facility (which includes zebra crossings) must use a crossing facility.
Zebra crossings in the United Kingdom
In the United Kingdom, it is the law that motorists give way to pedestrians at zebra crossings. They were introduced in the late 1950s and '60s to tackle high death rates of pedestrians crossing roads. For nearly 60 years they have been recognized as a safe place for pedestrians to cross but more recently, some drivers are failing to give way to pedestrians. It is believed that 100s of people have died at the crossings and thousands more have been injured. This has prompted some councils to install enforcement cameras at the crossings to catch offenders. In the United Kingdom, a fine of £60 and 3 points on your licence is given to those failing to give way at the crossings. This has been criticized as too lenient with other countries enforcing up to £2000 fines. However, if you fail to give way at a zebra crossing patrolled by a school crossing patrol (lollipop man/lady as they are commonly called) the fine rises to £1000 and a minimum of 3 points on your licence or even disqualification. In the UK, motorists have to stop for a crossing patrol/"lollipop man/woman" even if they are not patrolling a pedestrian crossing.
A tiger crossing is a variation used in Hong Kong, and formerly (experimentally) in the United Kingdom. It is painted yellow and black. In the UK, it allowed cyclists to cross in a central area of the road without dismounting, and obliged motorists to give way to both cyclists and pedestrians. Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire experimented with tiger crossings in 2006 and 2007, but replaced them with toucan crossings. Switzerland also uses yellow stripes for pedestrian crossings, but unlike above the above crossings, cyclists are required to dismount to cross the road.
In popular culture
A zebra crossing appears on the cover of The Beatles' Abbey Road album. It made it a tourist attraction, and it has been incorporated into the Abbey Road Studios logo. Since the Abbey Road photo was taken, zigzag lines at the kerb and in the centre of the road have been added to all zebra crossings to indicate the no-stopping zones on either side. The band Shriekback's album Sacred City contains an entire song, "Beatles Zebra Crossing?", about the Abbey Road zebra crossing and its status as a tourist attraction.
There is also a tongue-in-cheek reference to zebra crossings in the science-fiction comedy The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by English author Douglas Adams, in reference to Man using the improbable creature called the Babel fish as proof of the non-existence of God; the novel says, "Man then goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed at the next zebra crossing."
- E.g., California Vehicle Code Section § 275.
- E.g., California Vehicle Code Section § 21955.
- Buckinghamshire County Council (2006). "Aylesbury hub Cabinet report" (http). honestjohn.co.uk. Retrieved October 11, 2007.[dead link]
- History of Road Safety, Gerald Cummins
- The History of British Roadsigns, Department for Transport, 2nd Edition, 1999
- Zebra crossing in Canadian Centre for Architecture exhibition
- Traffic signals and pedestrian crossings
- UK road markings and road signs