Pedestrian crosswalks in Paris

It’s a wonder more Germans aren’t run over in Paris, because in Germany these zebra stripes painted on the streets mean that pedestrians have the right of way, no matter what. When a German town or city installs traffic lights at an intersection it is required by law to remove the zebra stripes, so as not to send out contradictory signals.

Pedestrian crosswalks in Paris

But in most of the neighboring countries, such as Austria, Switzerland and France, these zebra stripes mean merely that pedestrians may cross here as long as there is no red light to stop them. Germans are understandably confused by this, and are often outraged when motorists fail to stop for them or even honk for them to get out of the way.

(And how is it in your country? What do the zebra stripes mean there?)

My photos in this post are from 2006. I revised the text in 2021.

See also: Speed limits in Paris.

25 thoughts on “Pedestrian crosswalks in Paris”

  1. In USA, the pedestrians have the right of way on the zebra stripes. Normally the drivers follow the rules. If the driver hits a pedestrian on a zebra crossing, it is a ‘strict liability offence’. I cannot remember the exact rules in China, since I have moved to USA for many years. But the pediatricians often “fight” with the cars to cross the street, which is very dangerous.

  2. In California the pedestrian has the right of way, at least in theory. Back in the 1950s it really worked. Today it usually doesn’t. Coming from Ohio where pedestrians were a nuisance, as a kid I loved stepping out in the street at my uncle’s in California to stop the traffic . . . until my mother caught me one day. I didn’t do that again! Still don’t.

  3. In the UK we don’t have the zebra stripes at junctions – they are used for crossings part way along a road, combined with orange belisha beacons. Cars must stop for pedestrians who are actually on the zebra crossing, and drivers are encouraged out of courtesy to also do so if someone is standing on the kerb waiting to cross and it is safe for them to stop (i.e. not risking anyone driving into the back of them) – some stop, some don’t 😉

    1. I never knew what those orange globes were called: Belisha beacons. I’ve just looked them up and found that they were named after one Leslie Hore-Belisha (1893–1957), who was Minister of Transport in the 1930s.

    2. Australia is the same as UK. On what we inventively call a pedestrian crossing, the pedestrians have absolute right of way as soon as their shoe hovers over that zebra crossing line. No excuses, the motorist is automatically in the wrong if anything goes wrong. Crossings are signposted (walking legs on yellow background) but do not have lights. Children’s school crossings have flag markers at relevant times of the day. Most of the population are well versed in ‘safety crossings’ and there has to be a pretty good reason for crossing at an unmarked place. Racing for the bus is no excuse!

  4. In India, traffic lights & zebra crossing both exists together as per Traffic Policy. Unfortunately, the alignment is often inappropriate. Moreover, there are discipline issues. Vehicles are suppose to stop behind the painted stripes for people to walk across, however, drivers often move over the zebra crossing which means, pedestrians are at risk. Traffic Police these days has started taking instant photos of number plates and share it with the control room to raise a challan or tickets. The vehicle owner gets an sms with amount to be paid for violation.

    1. In Paris they have started experimenting with automatic cameras mounted on the buses. Any car that blocks the bus lane is automatically ticketed and has to pay a fine.

  5. I can vouch for the very different behavior of motorists in different parts of the USA.

    Where I grew up in the Pacific NW, drivers generally obeyed the law pretty strictly, were not overly aggressive, and deferred to pedestrians at both labeled crossings and elsewhere. Oregonians like myself would wait at a red crossing signal in the rain, even when no vehicular traffic was present to prevent a quick act of jay walking. (Friends did find me extreme as I wouldn’t stop, wait a moment, look carefully, then cross against the light.) Drivers have grown far more aggressive in the city as the population exploded over the past 20 years, however; road culture there now seems less polite overall when I’m home to visit.

    Drivers in Massachusetts, in New England, are known as “massholes;” the epithet is well deserved. I’ve seen cars pass a cautious driver waiting to make a safe left turn by pulling around to the right! That said, the city of Boston had relatively high fines ($250 I think?) for crosswalk violations, so I found it easier to cross busy roads when I moved there than I had in the small college town (surrounded by rural farmland hours away from NYC) where I lived in between.

    I still have to “dial down” my level of assertiveness when driving on local roads in the NW, however, to avoid being the biggest jerk operating a car. Highway driving around the cities is now fairly similar between the two regions.

    1. My last visit to the US was in 1989, when I rented a car and drove up to Wisconsin to visit an elderly uncle. That was a relaxing drive, because everyone was going the same speed on the Interstate, so I could just set the cruise control to 65 mph and never have to change lanes. In Germany, driving on the Autobahn was strenuous because you had to keep speeding up, slowing down, blinking, changing lanes, etc.
      I finally stopped driving cars in 2005, and that was a huge improvement in my quality of life. Now I would never voluntarily live in a place where I had to have a car.

  6. My experience in Germany is that the German driver doesn’t necessarily honor the zebra stripes and pedestrians in it if he can make it across the zebra stripes before you reach the spot he drives across. I almost got wiped out twice while in country by assuming drivers would left me cross (safely) before they attempted to cross the zebra stripes. I kicked one car as it nearly struck me, causing a bit of a situation where the driver threatened to call the military police and I to call the Polizei. Since I was with two witnesses, I suspect that was the reason he didn’t risk me involving the Polizei. The three of us were well into the crossover when he zoomed past, barely missing me. This crossover was by the Rathaus. So much for German “law and order”!

    At another zebra stripe, the German wife of a sergeant was struck and seriously injured. Some part of this recklessness probably had to be this particular crossover was from the city bus to a US military shopping/housing complex, and this was the early 1970s, not that far from a time Germany “Seig Heil’ed” a mad man.

  7. It varies here in the U.S., but most drivers aren’t too concerned with pedestrians’ or cyclists’ rights of way anyway. However, I did find this tidbit interesting: The city of A Coruña in Galicia, Spain has opted for spots rather than stripes at a pedestrian crossing, resembling a cow instead of a zebra. The reason for this option is to recognize the importance of the animal for the region’s farming.

  8. In the US, pedestrians have the right of way, but only if the crosswalk sign flashes green/shows it’s okay to walk. I mean, we still have to let pedestrians go first even when they break the rules and cross on red, but us drivers aren’t too happy about it!

  9. It is different in different states. In Maryland when someone steps onto a crossing, cars have to give them the right of way (and sometimes police have fake pedestrians step out in front of car so they can give them a ticket for not stopping). In California when we were there, cars were to stop even if the pedestrian was not at a cross walk. In some places you can get a ticket for crossing where there is no cross walk. But I don’t think cross walks are painted with stripes everywhere.

  10. You gave me a good laugh this morning. I remembered the warnings our teachers gave us when we went to Paris with school and I am still surprised that I am in one bit here in the UK 🤣🙋‍♀️🐝

    1. Now that you mention it, I was once nudged by a car when I was crossing on zebra stripes in Milan. Fortunately the car was going very slowly, as it was backing out of a parking space.

  11. Here in San Diego, the zebra stripes mean pedestrians have the right of way, but drivers here don’t adhere to rules much anymore, everyone is in too much of a hurry to stop for anyone else! We also have traffic lanes where bicyclists have the right of way, those are also abused by motorists that are apparently “above the law” ahh, don’t get me started! 😉😁

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