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The Green Cross Code

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A graphic depicting a dangerous time and a safe time to cross the road.

Here's how the Highway Code in the UK defines the Green Cross Code:

The advice given below on crossing the road is for all pedestrians. Children should be taught the Code and should not be allowed out alone until they can understand and use it properly. The age when they can do this is different for each child. Many children cannot judge how fast vehicles are going or how far away they are. Children learn by example, so parents and carers should always use the Code in full when out with their children. They are responsible for deciding at what age children can use it safely by themselves.

The Green Cross Code itself is six simple rules. It is written so that young children can learn, understand & use it.

  • Think First - Find the safest place to cross then stop.

  • Stop - Stand on the pavement near the kerb.

  • Use Your Eyes and Ears - Look all around for traffic, and listen.

  • Wait Until it's Safe to Cross - If traffic is coming, let it pass.

  • Look and Listen - When it's safe, walk straight across the road.

  • Arrive Alive - Keep looking and listening for traffic while you cross.

Earlier versions of the code simply had 'Stop, Look and Listen' as a short version that children could remember easily.

The principle of the code is simple - find a suitable place to cross where you can be seen by traffic in both directions and where you can see the road in both directions. Wait until there is a suitable gap in the traffic. Cross quickly - but don't run - looking both ways until you have reached the other side.

It is supposed to be something that all adults know, but more often than not, people are knocked down because they aren't following the rules.

Children can be taught the Green Cross Code at any age. Many schools teach the cycling proficiency at age ten as part of their schooling. Children under the age of ten are not taught cycling proficiency because they are not as good at judging distance and speed. Most safety experts recommend that no child under the age of ten should be let out unsupervised near roads, so parents should bear this in mind when deciding at what age their children can be let out unsupervised.

Why People Aren't Using the Code

At Risk

With the exception of car occupants, pedestrians have the highest death and injury rate of any group of road users in the UK1. They are the only road users who don't wear protective clothing and everyone is a pedestrian at some point during their day; car drivers have the car and a seatbelt, and cyclists should have a helmet (although many don't). For more than thirty years, the government has been attempting to drill the Green Cross Code into people, particularly children, through school activities and parental involvement.

Pedestrians can't judge speed very well and children are particularly bad at this. Some people are better than others, although when viewing an approaching car head on, it can be difficult to judge its speed. Learner drivers have similar problems translating their judgement of speed from being a stationary observer (as a pedestrian) to a moving observer within the car.

Anti-Peter Pan Syndrome

Many grown-up people aren't using the Green Cross Code. They dart across the road when there is a gap large enough for them to get through. Many would appear to think that the code doesn't apply to them, because they are adults. But, again, to quote the Highway Code: 'The advice given below on crossing the road is for all pedestrians.

So remember, some things never change as you grow older; your parents are always 'mum and dad', gravity is constant and the Green Cross Code applies to everyone. This means you.

24/7 Society

As with road rage, the decision to cross hastily can be a frustration at waiting for traffic, caused by a society that has become accustomed to instant gratification2. This need to get to that meeting, to the shops or just general impatience is causing people to take risks with their lives.

To the human eye, an approaching car travelling at 20 MPH looks very similar to a car braking to 15 MPH. Since the brake lights cannot be seen by the pedestrian, they may not be aware if the driver has had to brake to avoid them, as this Researcher can testify:

As a newly-qualified driver, it always appalled me at the number of people who crossed without looking at all. Old men who dawdled across the road, young men who looked straight at my car approaching them and ran across, forcing me to brake and people who crossed the road diagonally, making traffic in both directions slow to avoid them. Perhaps most dangerous were the people who crossed directly behind me as I waited at a junction3. But worst of all was the number of young mothers with small children who charged across the road during gaps in traffic. The worst part of it is that without other evidence, like CCTV footage, if they run out and I hit them, I'm automatically at fault in the eyes of the public.


Fewer people are using the Green Cross Code and pedestrians are choosing to cross in unsuitable places, like between parked cars, or on a corner. Many of them have young children in tow and are setting a bad example, as children learn by copying the behaviour of adults. As a result of this, many people are growing up not knowing how to cross a road safely.

In addition to this, parents have been letting young children out on the streets on their own. This was not such a problem a generation ago, but the number of cars on the roads has been growing steadily.


Child pedestrians killed225180165160132131138103107107107
Child pedestrians KSI45,0974,9014,2314,6104,4004,1323,9543,7373,4573,2263,144
Adults pedestrians killed1,2631,1631,072953897858835803760750719
Adult pedestrians KSI9,7339,1258,2608,1147,7167,3006,9256,5926,2216,1125,920

Source: Office of National Statistics, Road accident casualties, by road-user type and severity 1991-2001. Annual Abstract of Statistics.

Deaths Per
Billion Vehicle
1991406.21488 3.66
1994418.4 11132.66

Source: Office of National Statistics, Billion Vehicle Kilometres, Social Trends 32 (only figures up to 1998 were available).

These are only the raw statistics on number of deaths and seriously injured per year. It does not show the risk factor to pedestrians (compared with cyclists for example). The statistics do show a marked decrease in the number of pedestrians being involved in road accidents, but the child fatalities for the last few years have been static and are actually up on 1998.

Remember that statistics alone can be misleading (see How to Understand Statistics). Although there have certainly been more road awareness campaigns in the years shown, there have also been improvements in brake and tyre design, 'pedestrian protection' design in cars (they are designed to cause less damage to anyone hit by the car) and more areas with speed bumps, rumble strips, speed cameras and 'Kill Your Speed' signs.

Highway Code

The Highway Code provides rules for all road users including pedestrians. Although it is not a legal requirement, it does recommend using any pedestrian crossing that is available. All road users, including pedestrians, are expected to follow the rules laid out in it.

For more information about pedestrian crossings, check out: How to Use a Zebra Crossing in the UK.

For more information on the mathematics of crossing, including how to calculate how long it takes for a pedestrian to cross the road, check out Capacity Analysis of Pedestrian and Bicycle Facilities.

1Source: Office of National Statistics.2Like 24-hour news on demand, rather than having to wait for the news at six o'clock.3Never cross behind a stationary car.4KSI - Killed or Seriously Injured5The Number of kilometres that all vehicles travelled in they year.

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