Do you have to stop at zebra crossings?
A little while ago I rode up to a zebra crossing which someone was crossing on a bike. I cut in front of them and kept going.
It turned out that one of the cars behind me was an unmarked police car. They buzzed me over and gave me a telling off, but they didn’t give me a ticket or a fine. It made me want to find out why.
Zebra crossings – the basics
If you’re on a bicycle, you have to accord precedence to a pedestrian who is within the limits of the crossing before you are. (ZPPPCR reg. 25(1))
You don’t have to stop – just accord precedence. This seems to mean give way. So long as you let the pedestrian go in front of you (so ride behind them rather than in front), you should be ok. (ZPPPCR regs. 25(1), 14)
That said, you won’t need to give way if:
- They’re not a pedestrian. Someone who is walking while pushing a bike is a pedestrian. But someone who is riding their bike across the crossing isn’t a pedestrian – it might be a good idea to get out of the way, but you won’t commit an offence if you cut in front of them. (Crank v Brooks  RTR 441, 442-3)
- They’re not within the limits of the crossing. The limits seem to mean the black-and-white stripe lines. If you get onto the stripes before the pedestrian does, you don’t have to give way. (ZPPPCR Sch 1, Pt II, para. 6(a))
- There’s a central island, and the pedestrian isn’t on your side of the crossing. The rules say that where a zebra has a central island, you can treat each side as a separate crossing. So you only have to give way to a pedestrian who is within the limits of your side of the crossing. (ZPPPCR reg. 25(2))
So I think I wasn’t booked because the person on the crossing was on a bike. But it might also have been because they were in the central island of the crossing when I cut through, so not within the limits on my side.
If the pedestrian does get onto the crossing first and you don’t give way, there aren’t many excuses. It’s not enough to say you didn’t see them – you have to approach the crossing in a way which enables you to give way to pedestrians if they happen to be there. (Gibbons v Kahl  1 QB 59, 64)
You might have an excuse if you have a sudden loss of control, through no fault of your own, which prevents you from giving way. But anything less probably won’t be enough. (Burns v Bidder  2 QB 227, 240-1)
One other thing to note is that if the crossing is being controlled by a police officer or traffic warden, the rules above don’t apply – instead, cyclists have to obey the officer’s or warden’s directions (as do pedestrians). (ZPPPCR reg. 25(1); RTA ss. 35, 37, 163)
If you fail to accord precedence when you need to, you commit an offence. (RTRA s. 25(5))
If you’re stopped by a constable in uniform or a vehicle inspector who produces his authority, you can be given a fixed penalty of £30. If you don’t pay within the period stated (which will be a minimum of 21 days), this will normally go up to £45, which will be enforced in the courts as a fine. (RTOA s. 54 and Sch 3; ss. 52(3)(a), 55(3))
This might be another reason why I wasn’t given a fixed penalty – the police who stopped me weren’t in uniform.
Alternatively if you’re not given a fixed penalty (or you are but you dispute it), you can be prosecuted in the courts, in which case the maximum penalty is a fine of £1,000. This will only be possible though if you can be identified – so if you haven’t been given a fixed penalty, and haven’t been required to give a name and address, it‘s going to be unlikely. (RTOA s. 55(2); Sch 2)
If you’re caught, you can always hope for a verbal warning (or just a ticking off). When I was stopped, a tough Eastender got out of the police car wearing a stab-proof vest, colleague at her side, looking like she expected a ruckus. I just apologised lots. Not sure, but this may have helped.