Giving Way to Pedestrians

Giving way to Pedestrians

The Department for Transport have made some changes to the Highway Code for 2022; but perhaps the most controversial is the rule about giving way to pedestrians at junctions. Already there is a backlash from drivers about the confusion this is causing.

So the question is – when to give way and when not to give way?

Turning into a Side Road

If you’re turning left into a side road, then giving way to pedestrians who are waiting to cross should be fairly straightforward. Also, when slowing down on approach to the end of a road allowing someone to cross in front of you ought to be straightforward; (provided anyone turning into that same junction from the main road shares the same awareness!)

But what about when you’re turning right into a side road? On a busy road it can be difficult enough finding a gap in the oncoming traffic. If you also have to allow people to cross that side road first you could be in for a very long wait. You will also probably find drivers held up behind you tooting their horns.

Rule H2

Rule H2 of the new Highway Code states:

At a junction you should give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross a road into which or from which you are turning.

pedestrian waiting to crossLet’s look at this situation; you are turning left from a main road into a side road. A pedestrian is at the junction waiting to cross the main road FROM which you’re turning. Are you supposed to stop and give way to them?

The likelihood is that they won’t be able to cross if traffic is still coming the other way. If there is no traffic coming the other way, the likelihood is that following traffic will start to pass you. There is also the likelihood that the pedestrian won’t have a clue what you’re waiting for; unless you wave them across that is. But if you wave them across and they step into the path of another vehicle who’s going to shoulder the blame?

Vulnerable Road Users

The subject of looking after those who are most at risk on our roads is an honourable one. But this is a rule made up by people who clearly have not put enough thought into the consequences of their decision making.

I recently contacted the Department for Transport to ask for clarification on two other scenarios:

  1. I  am turning right at a green traffic light. The road I am turning into is not controlled by pedestrian crossing lights and there people waiting to cross. Am I supposed to stop in the middle of the junction to wait for these people?
  2. I am turning right at a roundabout and at the exit into my new road there are people waiting to cross. Am I supposed to stop in the middle of the roundabout to allow them to cross?

This was their response:

“It is also worth noting that, although the rule change does apply at junctions, safety is of course the priority. It is clear that individual circumstances will determine if it is safe to give way to pedestrians waiting to cross and drivers and riders are expected to exert their own judgment to ensure the safety of themselves and other road users. Such factors as:

  • the presence of following traffic
  • the speed on approach
  • the visibility and actions of the person waiting to cross
  • and whether it was clear the person intended to cross

will need to be considered. The actions of the driver or rider should not place a pedestrian at risk if they fail to give way to someone who is already crossing the road.”

Yours sincerely
Sandra Forde
Road Safety Division

This is a typical non-committal response from those who make the rules, basically leaving it open to interpretation so that no-one can hold them responsible for the consequences.

Don’s Rule

So taking what the DfT said into consideration, this is my personal interpretation:

  • There is no legal obligation for you to give way to pedestrians at any junction unless you think that it is safe and convenient to do so
  • Do not stop in any situation where you think you would be likely to cause hindrance or confusion to other road users but….
  • Where pedestrians are present, approach at a speed which enables you to stop safely should they decide to step out.

A lot of people seem to be under the impression that they will face fines and prosecution should they not give way to pedestrians, but this is definitely not the case. You would only be in trouble if you were to put someone else in danger. This is no different to the way the law has always been.

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One Response

  1. Roy says:

    For the last 15 years I have lived in Canada where the pedestrian priority at junctions principle operates. It works well there but not here, why?
    1. Lower population density leading to more relaxed driving. There is a noticeable difference between rural and inner city.
    2. Driver attitudes: invariably (and sometimes infuriatingly and potentially dangerously) the Canadian approach is “after you Claude!, no after you Charles, no-no, after you, etc!” Once one experiences the 4-way stop situation it’s clear that courtesy means more to Canadians than rules, confusing and dangerously so.
    3. Pedestrians cross junctions without looking since their priority has been established for many years. Drivers understand that and always give way.
    The Highway Code change is trying to introduce a “hope” that drivers will be more courteous to pedestrians. It doesn’t work in the UK because too many drivers won’t without the imposition of an unequivocal law. A law that would be unenforceable and dangerous for the reasons you have highlighted. So, in The UK it will remain a case of pedestrians crossing at their peril.

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