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What Is a Zebra Crossing?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 04 December 2016
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A zebra crossing is an area of the roadway painted with distinctive markings to indicate that it is available for the use of pedestrians who need to cross the road. Specific traffic laws vary worldwide, but generally pedestrians must use pedestrian crossings rather than jaywalking, where they cross the road at random. This facilitates traffic flow and also keeps pedestrians safer, by creating a designated area where drivers know to proceed with caution because people on foot or in wheelchairs and scooters may be present.

The name “zebra crossing” is a reference to the distinctive bold stripes that mark pedestrian crossings. These stripes make the area highly visible to pedestrians and drivers alike, and are often black and white, although other colors may be used as well. Some zebra crossings also have flashing lights, signs, and other indicators. They are usually situated at intersections, although on a very long block, a crossing may be positioned partway through for the benefit of people who need to cross the street.

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Under some right of way laws, pedestrians in a zebra crossing have right of way and all traffic must yield to them. Some regions provide pedestrian right of way in all settings, whether people are in designated crosswalks or not, while others limit it to specified crosswalks and require pedestrians to obey traffic signals. Other areas may give drivers the right of way, in which case pedestrians need to proceed with caution even when traffic signals indicate that it is their turn to go. While no driver wants to hit a pedestrian, accidents can occur, and the driver will not be at legal fault if the pedestrian did not have the right of way.

Many nations provide safety drills for children to familiarize them with how to safely use a zebra crossing. Worldwide, similar signage is used to convey information at crosswalks for the benefit of citizens and travelers. The crossing may be controlled by a light, with a signal that lights up to alert people when it is safe to cross. Pedestrians should also exercise caution and look both ways before crossing, taking special care to consider which side of the road the traffic drives on. In the United States, for example, people drive on the right, and it is always a good idea to look right, left, and right again immediately before crossing, to check for any oncoming cars.

Drivers should be aware that the law usually prohibits them from stopping in a zebra crossing, in the interest of pedestrian safety. In heavy traffic, it is important to keep crosswalks clear to allow people to cross in a controlled environment, rather than forcing pedestrians and wheelchair users into regular traffic.

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