Zebra crossing nears the end of the road

04/11/2011

After 60 years on the British roads the zebra crossing is nearing extinction after over 1000 have been removed in the past 5 years. Since 1951 the zebra crossing has evolved into the more advanced panda, pelican and puffin crossings which offer red, amber and green warning lights for drivers as well as red and green men for pedestrians.

Road safety experts have long been of the opinion that zebra crossings are unsafe due to the fact that priority is given to pedestrians without actually slowing vehicles down.

Low fines (£60 fine and three points on the offender’s driving licence) and the refusal of some motorists to stop have also seen deaths on zebra crossings double in the past four years.

Andrew Howard, the AA’s head of road safety, voiced this concern.

“Essentially, drivers don’t take as much notice of zebra crossings as they should because there’s no red light telling them to stop, and pedestrians don’t feel as safe as they do with a signal telling them when to cross.”

Research by the New Zealand Transport Agency in 2007 suggested that a zebra without any traffic slowing measures could actually increase pedestrian accidents by 28%. Combined with a speed bump, however, it reduced them by 80%. Here, five people died on zebra crossings last year and 144 were injured.

Andrew Howard also added that he expects the trend of the removal of zebra crossings to continue over the next few years and to vanish altogether from all but the slowest moving city centre roads.

“I suspect zebra crossings will continue to have a role in some busy town centres where they can be effective at helping people cross without constantly stopping the traffic. But in villages and towns I think they will eventually become extinct.”

He added, “To a large extent,” he says, “they already have. I’m struggling to think of a single plain zebra in Basingstoke.”

However, despite this, Road deaths and injuries at zebra crossings in Westminster have dropped over the past few years. Statistics show that across the borough’s 154 zebra crossings, so far in 2011 six people have been seriously injured. This compares to 11 last year, 14 in 2007 and 25 in 2001. Slight injuries are also down this year, with 48 compared to 77 in 2007 and 153 in 2001.

Westminster Council, provider of probably the most famous zebra crossing in the world at Abbey Road in St John’s Wood, believes the key may be its comprehensive education programme, including teaching road safety to hundreds of school children.

Fortunately, the iconic Abbey Road zebra crossing, made famous after appearing on a Beatles album cover, shown in the picture above, will not be removed as it has been given a grade II listed status.