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.


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