What’s The Difference Between Zebra, Puffin And Pelican Crossings?

What’s The Difference Between Zebra, Puffin And Pelican Crossings?

Zebra, puffin, pelican – they’re all types of animals, right? But of course, in the UK, they’re also types of road crossings. As a learner driver, you’ll need to know the difference between these types of road crossings to help you approach pedestrians safely and generally be a safe and considerate driver.

So what’s the difference between zebra, puffin and pelican crossings? We tell you everything you need to know. 

Zebra crossing

Zebra crossing

Zebra crossings are a common type of crossing, but they don’t have crossing lights. You will often spy them across city centres and areas where there is likely to be a lot of pedestrian traffic.

They feature black and white stripes painted across the ground (which is where the name zebra comes from). They are also marked by two beacons known as ‘Belisha beacons’, which are named after the politician who introduced them – Leslie Hore-Belisha – in 1934. 


Pedestrians have an automatic right of way on a zebra crossing. As you approach a zebra crossing, you should adjust your speed and look out for anyone who could be trying to cross. 


It’s a criminal offence not to stop for pedestrians at a zebra crossing, so if you want to avoid having points on your licence (including a provisional licence), then make sure you stop.

Puffin crossing

Puffin crossing

Puffin crossings were introduced in 1992, making them newer than zebra or pelican crossings. A puffin crossing features the green/red man signals on the side of the road, while drivers will see traffic lights facing the road.

Puffin crossings work using sensors to monitor whether or not there are any pedestrians at the crossing.

After a pedestrian has pressed the control button, the traffic lights will change from green to red to alert the driver to stop, allowing the pedestrian to cross to cross.

The lights will then return to green when the crossing is clear of pedestrians.

Unlike a pelican crossing (more on that below), there are no flashing amber lights on a puffin crossing. You must wait until the lights return to green before you can continue to drive.

Keep an eye out for puffin crossings as you drive, you may see a sign alerting you to an upcoming one. You should keep an eye on any cars that are behind you to ensure you can both stop and accelerate safely. Your instructor will make sure you carry out the necessary mirror checks.

Pelican crossing

Pelican crossing

You’ll likely be more familiar with a pelican crossing than other types of crossing, both as a driver and a pedestrian yourself. They feature a black and yellow box on the side of the road for the pedestrian with a WAIT sign, while drivers see a set of three-colour traffic lights facing you from the road.

With a pelican crossing, the flow of traffic is controlled by the traffic lights.

A pedestrian will press the button, lighting the WAIT sign, where they must wait for a green man on the opposite side of the road to light and for the traffic lights to turn red.

After a certain amount of time, the red signal turns to a flashing amber and then green. If there are no pedestrians remaining on the crossing while the signal is flashing amber, you can continue on your way.

Once the signal starts flashing, pedestrians are no longer permitted to cross the road. 

Your approach to a pelican crossing will be the same as other crossings – checking behind you to make sure you adjust your speed to allow other cars to stop behind you as needed.


Learning the difference between zebra, puffin and pelican crossings


As a learner driver, it’s important that you learn the difference between each type of crossing. Zebra, puffin and pelican crossings each have their own rules, and failing to follow them could lead to an accident, as well a penalty on your licence.

Many drivers are guilty of breaking the rules, but if you observe them from the beginning, you’ll be a much safer driver.

Your instructor will guide you through the different types of crossings when you approach them. It’s important to listen to their instructions so that you understand when you need to stop and when you can continue to drive.

Make sure you understand how to spot the difference too – this could be something that appears on your theory or hazard perception test.

If you’re looking for a driving instructor in Essex, be sure to check out Alfie’s Driving School. We provide professional one-to-one driving lessons to help you learn how to drive with confidence. Contact us today to see how we can help you get on the road.

What’s The Difference Between Zebra, Puffin And Pelican Crossings

Zebra Crossing A Road

A common problem for new motorists can be how to recognise the different types of crossings in use on UK roads. Sometimes, when we’re driving it can be easy to momentarily panic while we rack our brains as to how we should react when faced with each one so it’s essential you’re familiar with the rules.

The three most common types of road crossings we will encounter when driving are the Zebra crossing, the Pelican crossing and the Puffin crossing. Even if you’ve watched hours of David Attenborough documentaries, it can still be difficult to distinguish each one and understand why they’re named after each animal.

Zebra Crossing

The Zebra crossing is the easiest to recognise because it consists of black and white stripes that form a path across the road. Zebra crossings also have a flashing yellow Belisha beacon at either side of the carriageway.

Zebra Crossing

A fun fact, the Belisha beacon is named after Leslie Hore-Belisha who was the Minister of Transport responsible for them being introduced in the 1930s.

Pedestrians have priority at Zebra crossings so you must stop and let them cross. It’s important that you recognise a Zebra crossing when approaching it and scan the pavement for anyone waiting to use it. It is expected that pedestrians do not cross until they’re sure the driver has spotted them, though this doesn’t always happen.

You should use a mirror, signal, manoeuvre technique when approaching and stop before the dotted white line. Zebra crossings have white zigzag lines on their approach and you must not park or overtake in this zone.

Pelican Crossings

It’s helpful to remember that Pelican is short for Pedestrian Light Controlled Crossing. This will help you remember that these types of crossing are operated by the press of a button on the side of the road. Approaching vehicles are halted by traffic lights and pedestrians are notified to cross by a visible ‘green man’ displayed opposite and an audible signal.

Pelican Crossings

When the red traffic light shows, you must stop. When the traffic light displays a continuous illuminated amber one you must be prepared to stop. When a flashing amber light is displayed you need to give way to any pedestrians still using the crossing and when it turns green you can proceed but always check for anyone in the way.

Puffin Crossings

Puffin crossings are identical to Pelican crossings but they’re a little smarter. Puffin stands for Pedestrian User Friendly Intelligent crossing because they’re fitted with sensors which can tell when the crossing is clear or if there are pedestrians taking a little while to cross the road.

Puffin Crossings

Note that on Puffin crossings, the signal to tell pedestrians when to cross is beside them and not opposite. You should apply the same principles when approaching a Puffin crossing as you do the Pelican crossing. Look out for anyone at the side of the road when approaching, apply your mirror, signal, manoeuvre routine and prepare to stop. Puffin crossings do not use the flashing amber traffic light.