October 31, 1951 was the first large rollout of zebra pedestrian crosswalks in London, England.

Crosswalk pavement marking variants per the U....

Crosswalk pavement marking variants per the U.S. FHWA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Starting in 1949, the Transport Research Laboratory in Great Britain tested a number of designs at 1,000 locations. But, it was the broad white stripes on the dark background of the road that people and cars could see the most readily.

A Member of Parliament visited the laboratory, remarked on how the pattern looked like a zebra, and the name, zebra crossing, stuck.

In the first year, deaths of pedestrians at intersections dropped by 11 percent.

The zebra crossing has replaced the simple lines bordering a crosswalk in many countries because it is easier for drivers to see at a greater distance and pedestrians stand out more against the stripes in the crosswalk.

Counterintuitively, if you walk in the crosswalk closer to traffic, drivers can see you better against the stripes as they approach the intersection.

New Zealand’s research suggested that the zebra stripes alone actually increased pedestrian accidents, but, when combined with low speed bumps, cut accidents by 80%!

Similarly, a five-year U.S. study found no significant difference between marked and unmarked pedestrian crossings unless combined with other safety features, like walk/no walk signs.

State laws vary, but in Virginia, where I live, cars are required to stop if a pedestrian enters a crosswalk, and even have the right-of-way when vehicles are turning into an intersection.

But, traffic accidents are a matter of miscommunication about who has the right-of-way, or simply, inattention.

Even Virginia’s statute about pedestrian crossings says “No pedestrian shall enter or cross an intersecton in disregard of approaching traffic.”

I would never advise a grandchild, even in a state where it’s the law, to cross a street at a crosswalk and assume cars are going to stop, even if you have the light.

And, I was a crossing guard in elementary school. How about you?


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers


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