Road Safety News

Inquiry launched into 'Puffin' crossings amid safety fears

Thursday 3rd May 2012

The Scottish Government has launched an inquiry into the effectiveness of new-style ‘Puffin’ crossings, following claims they could cause more accidents than the older ‘Pelican’ models (Telegraph).

The ‘Pedestrian User-Friendly Intelligent’ crossings, which feature the little green man on the same display as the button, were developed as a safer way for people, particularity those with a disability or in wheelchairs, to cross busy roads.

The new-style ‘Puffin’ indicators, located at waist height on the same side of the road, are designed to encourage pedestrians to look at oncoming traffic. They were introduced as an alternative to the ‘Pelican’ systems which display the flashing green ‘running man’ on a traffic light on the opposite side of the road.

The Scottish Government has announced a fresh investigation into the ‘Puffin’ crossing, which was introduced 20 years ago, after doubts were raised about its safety.

Experts will examine the effectiveness of Puffin crossings – which have yet to fully replace the older Pelican models – amid fears that confusion between the two systems means that some people are not sure when it is safe to cross the road.

The research, commissioned by Transport Scotland and ‘Scots’, a body made up of local authority transportation chiefs, could result in additional pedestrian warning lights installed on thousands of crossings.

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “The findings will provide recommendations to ensure the most suitable crossings are provided for pedestrians, in particular those with disabilities, and that we continue to meet our obligations as laid out in the Equalities Act.”

The Department for Transport (DfT) will study the findings of the investigation when it is completed later this year.

A 2008 study commissioned by the DfT found that Puffins were significantly safer than Pelican crossings with 24% fewer pedestrian accidents and 16% fewer involving cars.

Robert Gifford, executive director of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS), said: “Given the cost of Puffin crossings, it is unlikely that many local authorities will be looking at installing them in the current financial climate.

“What is important is to achieve consistency within an area: too many crossings of different types can cause confusion and uncertainty for the pedestrian however mobile they may be.

“It's therefore important to assess pedestrian flows and levels of mobility before deciding which type of crossing to introduce.”

Norman Baker, local transport minister, said: “There may in certain circumstances be problems at some Puffin crossings where people waiting to cross the road obscure the view of the green and red signals for others.

“We have taken action to improve visibility by including high-level additional signals in the recent amendments to the traffic signs regulations.

“These can be placed above the standard signals so that everyone can see when it is safe to cross the road.”

Click here to read the full Telegraph report.


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I just want to add that the Puffin is far more confusing for tourists and others from overseas who expect a far side pedestrian signal. I just visited the U.K. having grown up there and encountered these signals for the first time, they are hopelessly confusing and scary not knowing what the signals to Road vehicles are doing once you leave the curb. Here in NY we generally have a countdown on most modern installations, I much prefer that style.
Dan Challis, New York

Agree (1) | Disagree (0)

Puffin crossings are a total waste of money and very dangerous. They make no sound so if you happen to be blind how do you know when to cross? Also the lack of information informing the public of the change is ridiculous. Why mess with a system so drastically when it works fine?

Agree (11) | Disagree (8)

It would be nice if we could trust motorists to let people finish crossing.
Only Me

Agree (7) | Disagree (0)

Puffin Crossings

There are 2 types of Puffin crossing Near sided and Far sided, depending on the road width and the crossing width it could have between 2 and 8 Poles, 4 to 12 traffic signal heads, 2 to 8 push buttons with wait indicators, 2 to 8 Red man /Green Man Displays. Consideration to its needs are the number of lanes, direction of travel, approaching visibility of the crossing to the Vehicles, as for the Pedestrians, the width of dropped kerb for larger numbers to crossing simultaneously, types of detection and control, flexibility to all users.

Puffin Near sided have the Pedestrian signals all on the pole near to who is crossing and not on the other side of the road, DfT proved that there was a clear increase in safety with reduced numbers of incidents and injuries but was also including the Far sided Puffin.

Time when no one should start
Pedestrian All Red “when there is no longer an invitation to start to cross, but pedestrians can continue to crossing within the deemed time to cross, the green man is turned off and the red man is turned on to stop any pedestrians from starting to cross, and the Vehicle Red stays on”

Puffin Far sided is a mix of the Pelican and the puffin crossing, it has the advantages of the new Puffin where it is clear the driver when they can move off after the pedestrian stage has ended and all safety inter greens have ended. And Green is showing and there is on pedestrians still crossing.

Time when no one should start
Pedestrian Black out-Time “when there is no longer an invitation to start to cross but pedestrians can continue to crossing within the deemed time to cross, the green man is turned off and the red man is not turned on to stop any pedestrians from starting to cross, while not giving pedestrians that are crossing a stop signal”

(GREEN means you may go on if the way is clear. Take special care if you intend to turn left or right and give way to pedestrians who are crossing) The driver has not to move off the stop line until the crossing is clear of pedestrians. With all controlled pedestrian crossings including a straight crossing with a central island. The driver should wait until it is clear of pedestrians, and only then proceed with Extreme Caution

Guidance By DfT is to Near Sided as the believe that the surrounding view of the Red-Man/Green-Man is the oncoming traffic and as such you are aware much sooner as to any approaching traffic. Far Sided is a minor improvement over Pelican crossing as it is at red to traffic for the PAR or PBT.

With the added number of displays a near sided crossing can have and high viewing units work well.
But the issues I have read are not as much about Pelican over Puffin or Far-sided over Near-sided a mix-up of all controlled crossings.

Has long as one or more can see the Red-Man Green-Man they in starting to cross will clear the way to see the display and also in turn let you known it is time to start to cross.
Once you have started to cross you can no longer see the near-sided display and when it is time to stop any more starting to cross it switches to Red-Man and it can not be seen by ones crossing, at this point if it is a far-sided Puffin it goes out but the Reed-Man dues not come on, so at this point you do not see anything bar the traffic waiting on a Red, Amber or Green?

Flashing Green to Pedestrians and Flashing Amber to Vehicles was of a time when drivers did not flout the Highway Code and put these who did not have a vehicle, above being held up from being somewhere else. And with this I feel Puffin needs to stay and Near-Sided is my choice.
Lyndon Reading

Agree (1) | Disagree (4)

I have used these Puffin crossing when I visit Wales and I think they are unsafe as you cannot see the green man on the other side of the road so you are not aware of when the light is going to change back to red. If the waist height control was angled into the road it you would then be able to see the green man from the other side.
thgun east midlands

Agree (14) | Disagree (3)

There is no argument. Puffin crossings are dangerous and should be dismantled or a Pelican style signal placed on the opposite kerb now.
Mike Gladwell Nottingham

Agree (19) | Disagree (4)

Puffin displays are mounted at a height that obscures the view of the road for average-height women. Any attempt to cross the road involves attempts to crane your head around it to see if the cars actually have stopped and it's clear to cross.
Emma, Southampton

Agree (7) | Disagree (1)

In the Isle of Man we have a hybrid Puffin crossing. We have nearside red man/green man PDUs but we also have far side red man/green man along with all the above ground detection. To my knowledge we haven't had an accident and there appears to be no confusion to pedestrians, albeit the occasional misunderstanding at black out.
Matthew Bawden

Agree (6) | Disagree (1)

You join on some yards behind some other people who are crossing are without giving it any conscious thought. You get part way across and see a car coming. You frantically look at the lights to see if you are still meant to be crossing! There are no lights to show you what to do. Do I go back? Do I walk? Do I run? Is the car going to stop? The light on the opposite site is essential information.
Frank, Worcester

Agree (27) | Disagree (6)

Although the Red/Green man is positioned in a similar line of sight to that of the oncoming traffic at a puffin crossing, it is much closer to the observer (pedestrian). Even those well educated enough in puffin crossing use to know where to look are unlikely to refocus their eyes from the 'Red Man' to the traffic, and remain far more isolated from the traffic than people waiting at a pelican crossing.
Jonny, York

Agree (13) | Disagree (2)

Unfortunately the arrangment of lights on Puffin Crossings for pedestrians is counter intuitive and less safe than on Pelican crossings. The way the lights on most Puffin Crossings are arranged means they are NOT in normal sight lines when standing on the kerb. If one followed the logic of Puffin Crossings traffic lights for vehicles would also have the lights mounted at the side - clearly madness.
N Booker Kenilworth

Agree (23) | Disagree (2)


I would describe that as an ideal example of such a crossing working “correctly”. The “idea” of such crossings is that pedestrians will look at traffic in association with RM/GM (plus although you don’t mention) if this was a mid block crossing single carriageway road there would more than likely have been audible conformation of GM?

Agree (4) | Disagree (1)

Whilst driving yesterday I observed a teenage girl using a Puffin crossing - she was the only one there and was standing right next to the box. In spite of this she was looking up over the box to the traffic lights - when she saw them change to red she checked the vehicles were stopping and crossed the road. It certainly looked like an ergonomics issue to me!
Dr James Whalen, Wolverhampton

Agree (14) | Disagree (1)

Out with my daughter, aged 13, I found she was unsure where to look for the green man and was less likely to watch traffic flow once the lights changed, the older system with the green man higher up encouraged her to take account of all of her surroundings, and she was unlikely to look at the lower display when a group of teenagers were near to it.
Mrs Green Northants

Agree (18) | Disagree (5)

Yes Tony - ex-Avon 1988 !
Roger Harding

Agree (1) | Disagree (1)

Roger (ex Avon Roger?)
Not my experience with most of the sites I've now put in (20+) but this was the reason that additional "duplicate" indicator units were authorised by DfT. We really need to follow the stats with such questions and thus far, irrespective of our own views, the use of such near side indicators indicates that they are "safer".

Agree (5) | Disagree (9)

It only takes one person standing in front of the light and other pedestrians can't see it. Far safer to have it on the far side of the road where everyone can see it.
Roger Harding

Agree (30) | Disagree (4)

We need to be careful not to confuse evidence of safety (or otherwise) and whether or not people like them and find them easy or unnerving to use. The data is already available to identify any crossing where there is a continuing casualty problem. Otherwise it is indeed an education and information matter which can also be addressed by the Road Safety ETP teams in any area affected. If it is a national problem, we need to be discussing it with the DfT, which we will happily do when next we meet with them.
Honor Byford, North Yorkshire

Agree (7) | Disagree (1)

Setting aside something that was introduced 20 years ago as being “new style crossings”!
May I suggest as additional reading the TRL report PPR507 “Puffin pedestrian crossing accident study” (available as free down load from TRL web site) referred to in this article.

Until any other studies contradict, this indicates “statistically significant safety benefits after conversion (of Pelicans) to Puffin facilities”

Without being over critical it might also be enlightening for us, as road safety practitioners, if instead of just relying on the Telegraph article Road Safety GB sought background information from Transport Scotland/Scots as an (admittedly quick look) at both websites can find no reference to such a study.

Agree (6) | Disagree (2)

How come it has taken 20 years to realise that there may be problems? Surely any authority should be aware of the Law of Unintended Consequences and should therefore have arranged to check accident data for a year or two at least, just in case?
Idris Francis

Agree (8) | Disagree (4)

I think Puffins are dangerous, they cannot be seen when you are crossing the road. I think the best crossings are the ones that give you a countdown that you can see as you are crossing, as in some parts of London.
Bobbio Saint Albans

Agree (30) | Disagree (6)

This issue centres on proper education and appropriate advice leaflets being given to members of the public and schools by any relevant Highway Authority/Council. Once the use of a Puffin crossing is explained properly, the so called 'confusion' disappears very quickly! Wider Puffin crossings tend to render certain groups of pedestrians as insecure because they can't see a far side signal. However, if these pedestrians proceeded to cross as normal, they will safely reach their destination and the Puffin crossing will have done it's job - it's all about education and proper use of such a formal crossing!
B Japs, Edinburgh

Agree (3) | Disagree (5)

"Several LHAs have in effect banned Puffins and perhaps it would be useful to see their arguments as part of the research."

This is surely simply more a case of choosing not to use rather than banning.
Julian Midlands

Agree (3) | Disagree (0)

In my previous job at Brighton & Hove Council we had a couple of specific places where we wanted to add a far side green man to a puffin crossing. Telephone calls to DfT indicated that they would not countenance any variation as they considered it would compromise the fundamental operation of the puffin. So we didn't do it. Presumably the same rules still apply?
Honor Byford, North Yorkshire

Agree (0) | Disagree (1)

Surely removal of the far side man was one of the key features of the changes. It was meant to stop the anxiety that slower moving pedestrians had when they were only half way across and the green man ended. Using far side men on an otherwise puffin installation loses that major improvement.

Alhtough I agree with Peter about junction crossings the main issue to me is one of publicity. When pelican crossings there was a raft of publicity with TV adverts, leaflets, school educational visits etc. When the puffin was introduced there was virtually nothing - Local Authorities had a leaflet they could distribute in the area but considering what a major change that was to the crossing layout and operation I would suggest the approach was seriously lacking.
Ian, Derby

Agree (13) | Disagree (0)

This is a complex issue - in my view Puffins can cause significant confusion when used at complex multi-stage junctions - it is often far too easy to see a green man aspect for the wrong arm of the junction and assume it applies ("see though") to the arm you are at. Additionally, despite the option to use high mounted pedestrian aspect signals, in busy city centre environments there is soemthing of a Lemming culture - the road is clear for 3 seconds and the crowd pours out onto the road.

I would interested to hear if anyone has put opposite pedestrian signals (Pelican style) on an otherwise Puffin design. No doubt that breaks a Regulation, but it would seem a useful compromise that achieved the benefits of Puffins with the added safety feature of the opposite signal.

Several LHAs have in effect banned Puffins and perhaps it would be useful to see their arguments as part of the research.
Peter, Manchester

Agree (14) | Disagree (0)