Why Jaywalking doesn’t exist in Great Britain

Pedestrians are expected to have common sense


In England and Wales it is legal to cross all roads except motorways (where pedestrians and slow vehicles are not permitted). The Highway Code contains additional rules for crossing a road safely,[10] but these are recommendations and not legally enforceable, although as with other advisory parts of the Highway Code compliance or otherwise can be used to establish liability in civil law proceedings such as insurance claims.[11] The term “jaywalking” is little used and not very well known.

The Highway Code specifically mentions the special case of a car turning into a road which a pedestrian is already crossing; by default, the pedestrian has priority.[12]

In UK schools children are taught to cross roads safely through the Green Cross Code. British children are taught to “Stop, Look, Listen and Think”, before crossing a road.

In Northern Ireland jaywalking can be charged at police discretion and usually only in the case of an accident when clearly witnessed. Otherwise, Northern Ireland is essentially the same as elsewhere in the UK.

I’ve always wondered about it when visiting the USA; see also Sweden for comparison:


It is legal to cross all roads except motorways in Sweden. Cars are required by law to give way to pedestrians (but not bicycle riders) at zebra crossings unless there is a traffic light. Pedestrians are encouraged to cross the road at zebra crossings if there is one nearby and are also discouraged from crossing at a red light. It is not illegal to jaywalk, however, and it is common to see people in cities crossing at a red light if there are no cars near. Taking risks and running across in front of cars is not usually acceptable behavior, though.

Why make such a big thing about crossing the road, that you can get arrested for it?

9 Replies to “Why Jaywalking doesn’t exist in Great Britain”

  1. On the whole USA seems to treat car as King and Peds as a nuisance.

    Though it’s strange as I believe in Washington (state) and perhaps OR and CA, that cars are supposed to give way at all junction. Something like all intersections in urban areas are considered to be crosswalks even if not marked.

      1. No, not lways 🙂

        But it is interesting to find that WA has an official policy that is a small chink in the car centric thinking. And it is even adhered to in small places. You step towards the cars and they come to a halt – perhaps more worried about being sued, but still…

      2. If cars are meant to stop at junctions to give way, then it’s perfectly acceptable for pedestrians to cross in the U.K., usually between the spaces of the cars (which are meant to be a car’s length apart). That said though, some drivers huddle up so close to the driver in front, it’s hard to walk between them. Sometimes a driver will try to do this deliberately to prevent a pedestrian from getting between, so that they can get out the junction quicker. When that happens, I just casually squeeze between them, glaring the driver in the face, quite simply because I have the right of way.

        There are SO many drivers in the U.K. that are in a hurry to get where they’re going, keeping the pedestrian on top of things demonstrates that drivers need to exercise more patience on the road. Not everything’s a goddamned race.

        Either way, most junctions in the U.K. have pedestrian markings enabling you to casually cross. In Swansea there’s few junctions that don’t have the indentations to indicate a pedestrian crossing. Bear in mind that roads in the U.K. aren’t as giant-sized as many other countries like the U.S. It takes 4 seconds at most to cross the average junction here.

  2. I’m guessing that the USA (and Australia, where jaywalking is illegal and enforced with fines) is a more car-centric culture, where the rights of motorists (who are seen to be more economically productive) take precedence.

  3. In responce to neil Jay walking should be illegal in the uk becasue the amount of people crossing in dangerous areas, just today i saw some one who couldn’t wait for the lights and walked right out in front of me, it has nothing to do with treating the car as king, it is reasonable common sence if something is dangerous then avoid it or wait until the danger has passed. You wouldnt walk on to a runway when 747 are landing then why walk out in front of a car doing 30mph.

    Everyday i see people not using zebra crosssings even though they are only 10m away from a proper crossing or cross when the lights are on red and putting themselves in danger area when cars are moving. people should learn that they are responsible for their own safety and not just blaming the car driver.

    The rights of the motorist should not take precidence but pedestirain should learn that cars cant stop on a sixpence and they may not have seen you. The are so many people who do silly things like stepping out from behind a bus on a busy road, people know that if they get hit by a car it’s going to hurt so why can’t they wait for the lights to change.

    Now dont get me started on cyclists who go through red lights, they deserve to be run over

  4. @glenn, I have to disagree, at least at the philosophical level.

    There appears to be an assumption that pedestrians should not venture onto the road unless no cars/vehicles are inconvenienced and yet it is OK to inconvenience the pedestrian by making them wait or forcing them to cross at a designated point. Why shouldn’t it be the other way round and cars have to stop if a pedestrian needs to continue their path across the road.

    OK, maybe excessive as at the extreme you would have vehicles going at walking pace, but the point illustrates that we put far too much emphasis on not inconveniencing the driver and not enough on allowing pedestrian movement. And the safety argument is always used in a way that suggest the pedestrian is at fault for causing the danger, but let us not forget it is the motor vehicle that is the danger and rules that appear to put the blame on the victim should always be double checked.

  5. “The Highway Code specifically mentions the special case of a car turning into a road which a pedestrian is already crossing; by default, the pedestrian has priority.”

    Not at all true – about it being a ‘special case’. It’s given a special mention in THC as it is a likely scenario which needs particular care. There is no priority on the road – other than who got to it first.

  6. Jaywalking is a stupid law, simple. I’m a driver and drive the UK speed limit and am aware of my surroundings. Just imagine how drivers would drive faster knowing they have less hazards of driving faster. UK laws are the best and most fair.

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