Road crossings - what's the difference between zebra, pelican, puffin and toucan crossings?

Road crossings - what's the difference between zebra, pelican, puffin and toucan crossings?
Stopping at road crossings is a standard part of your daily routine as a driver, but with six kinds of common crossings on UK roads – do the same rules apply for each?

Are you using them all correctly, and could you even identify them?

Let’s take a look at the main types of crossing, pointing out their distinguishing features, so you’re not caught short.

Guide contents:

What are Pelican crossings?

Pelican crossing

Also known as pedestrian light-controlled crossings – the pelican was introduced in Britain in 1969.

They were the first light-controlled crossing to be operated by pedestrians and controlled by traffic lights.

How to spot them

As you approach a Pelican crossing you’ll see a set of traffic lights with sets of zig-zag lines before and after on either side of the road.

How they work

A pelican crossing is activated when a pedestrian pushes the button on the control panel – these are found on traffic lights on both sides of the road.

Pressing the button prompts the traffic lights to switch to red. The ‘red man’ signal for pedestrians – found on the opposite side of the road to where they are standing – will turn to a ‘green man’, letting the pedestrian know it is safe to cross.

Where a Pelican crossing goes straight across the road – even if there is a central refuge island – by law, motorists must wait for pedestrians to have finished crossing and for the light to be either flashing amber or green before proceeding.

READ MORE: Traffic light cameras: what you need to know

If a crossing is staggered – with two different sets of traffic lights and a pedestrian refuge area in the middle – the crossings are treated as separate.

While in use, the ‘green man’ signal may begin to flash – this tells pedestrians not to start crossing but lets them know they can continue to do so if they’re already moving across the road.

A Pelican crossing is the only crossing which has a flashing amber light as part of its sequence.

What are Puffin crossings?

Puffin crossings

Also known as pedestrian user friendly intelligent crossings – these are similar to pelicans but have the ‘green man’ and ‘red man’ lights on the same side of the road to the user waiting to cross.

How to spot them

Like Pelican crossings – you’ll see a set of traffic lights with sets of zig-zag lines before and after on either side of the road.

How they work

Puffin crossings have two sensors on top of the traffic lights – a pedestrian crossing detector (PCD) and pedestrian kerb detector (PKD).

These make the crossing more efficient by detecting whether pedestrians are crossing slowly – which prompts the crossing to hold the red traffic light longer.

If the pedestrian presses the control panel and crosses prematurely or walks off – the sensors will cancel the request.

There’s no ‘flashing’ phase as seen on traditional pelican crossings.

Having the pedestrian signal on the same side of the road to the crosser helps them to monitor traffic and also helps the visually-impaired who may struggle to spot the lights from further away.

Some puffin crossings are also fitted with small rotating handles which tell pedestrians with poor sight when to begin to cross.

What are Zebra crossings?

Zebra crossing

Zebra crossings are black and white walkways which span the width of the road.

How to spot them

The crossings are recognisable thanks to their stripes – these are usually black and white. You can also tell a zebra crossing as there will be zig-zag lines on either side of the road.

You may also be able to spot flashing amber globes on black and white posts – known as Belisha beacons – on each side.

How to use them

Zebra crossings have no light signal to control traffic flow – the right of way is automatically given to pedestrians.

If the crossing is split with a pedestrian refuge in the middle – they should be treated as two separate crossings.

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Drivers should always make sure there are no pedestrians waiting to cross as they approach – taking care to check both sides of the road and ensure they have finished crossing safely before proceeding.

What are Toucan crossings?

Toucan crossings

Also called two can cross crossings, these are very similar to traditional Pelican crossings but also provide signals for cyclists to cross.

How to spot them

They look just like pelican and puffin crossings from a distance – but have an additional signal for bikes.

They are usually found on the outskirts of parks or cycle lanes and are wider - around four metres - compared to pelican and puffin crossings which are around two metres wide.

How to use them

As with Pelican and Puffin crossings, cyclists and pedestrians should press the control panel and wait for either the ‘green man’ signal or the ‘green bike’ signal to show.

They don’t have a flashing stage as part of their signal sequence.

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What are Pegasus crossings?

Pegasus crossings

These are the least common type of crossing found on UK roads. They bare similarities to Toucan crossings but feature a higher-placed control for horse riders to press without dismounting.

They also feature a control panel at normal height for pedestrians to operate.

How to spot them

These are also commonly found near parks and areas popular with riders. They’ll usually have additional safety features such as fences or barriers nearby. They are also usually wider than pedestrian-only crossings to keep vehicles further away from horses.

How to use them

A Pegasus is operated in the same way as a pedestrian-only crossing.

Like puffin crossings, they can also detect when there is movement on the road and hold the signal longer to allow horses and their riders to cross safely.

Pegasus crossings also don’t have a flashing stage, they switch between green and red only.

READ MORE: Drivers face new fines for getting too close to cyclists

What is a school crossing?

School crossings

School crossings are operated by a lollipop person or a school crossing patrol officer, and are vital to children’s safety as they make their way to and from school.

Under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 it is a criminal offence not to stop when a crossing guard signals for you to do so.

How to spot them

As you approach the crossing there will usually be a flashing amber signal to alert drivers to the possibility of pedestrians in the road ahead.

This will be accompanied by road signs signalling that school children may be crossing.

How to use them

A soon as the crossing guard steps into the road, motorists must stop and should not proceed until all pedestrians are safely across and back on the pavement.

Failure to follow these rules could result in a £1,000 fine, three penalty points or even driving disqualification.

If you are using a school crossing, make sure you do not cross until told it is safe to do so and never walk behind the crossing guard.

Cyclists should always dismount before using the crossing.

READ NEXT: Box junctions - do you know how to use them and avoid a fine?

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