Every weekend we dig into the archives. This post by Kent was originally published in July 2013.

Give Way Law change A4

Changing the road rules to favor pedestrians at intersections is something that will transform city life. It will allow people to move around more freely, access services and conduct everyday activities with less intimidation and inconvenience from marauding drivers. In conjunction with simple road markings, it will also help to liberate kids to travel to school or visit friends on their own, and encourage walking as a legitimate transportation mode.

As a recent immigrant I have learned to qualify my expectations, ranging from- this is different, but I can deal with it (eg. rugby league), to holy crap, this is mental, which is what I think of this road rule. With fresh eyes one can see how unique the pedestrian status is here compared to North American and European contexts. Here are a few examples:

  • At intersections and driveways it is common to see people running or madly jumping out of the way of turning cars; this doesn’t happen in large North American cities,

  • People walking are constantly looking way over their shoulders in a state of paranoia for cars to turn across their path,

  • Pedestrians increasingly cross mid-block in order to avoid the debacle of our intersections.

It didn’t take long before I became accustomed to the madness and started walking around town as if in a war zone.  This was brought to my attention on a recent trip to Vancouver when walking around downtown my friend stopped me and said, “you don’t have to worry, the cars will stop, it’s not like Auckland.” I was clearly suffering from a sort of post traumatic stress condition.

From an urban design perspective the road rules force a lot of knock-on problems that are difficult and costly to mitigate. For example, oddball pedestrian refuges are placed on insignificant side roads forcing intersections to be further blown out to accommodate rare large vehicle turning movements. Another example is the placement of speed tables in places that could easily be controlled by a regular crosswalk. While tables may make sense in the densest city centre context, it seems like overkill along regular corridors where a simple crosswalk would suffice.  I’ll write about stop signs and crosswalks in a subsequent post.

In the comments section recently we have been reminded of the tremendous progress that is being made to changing these road rules by  Walk Auckland, Living Streets Aoteroa, and the Waitemata Local Board. In addition to the other other sensible transport guidance the Waitemata Board supports changing this antiquated rule.

“Auckland Transport to advocate for a change of the give way rule requiring motorists to give way to pedestrians at intersections.”

And from Living Streets:

“…we think the Road Code should treat pedestrians as it treats other road users at intersections (mode equality). This would mean that turning vehicles would give way to pedestrians walking straight through (see the diagram below). This is already the law in Australia, Canada, the UK and the USA.”

For those interested in the gory technical and policy details,  have a look at this comprehensive paper by Dan Ross (pdf) posted through Living Streets Aoteroa. Of the many interesting tidbits from this paper is the description of a ‘courtesy crossing’. (No points if you guessed who benefits from said courtesy.)

As a side note, it’s important to note the leadership of these local efforts. Urban innovation is increasingly being driven by cities, not national governments. You can expect to see more deviations from the typical car-first paradigm that is embedded in national and Canberra policy, where the applicability to urban Auckland in particular is suspect.

This rule change will happen, and like the new turning give-way rule, it will quickly be assimilated into our daily lives. Of course, comment away on how dangerous this rule would be to implement, in particular the ‘false sense of security’ it will provide.

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  1. Is there any hope of this ever being enacted? Does anyone else get completely sick of widespread opposition to changes that improve society as a whole by shifting rights a smidgen in favour of vulnerable groups?

    1. Yes, there is a hope. As I understand it, Julie-Anne Genter is clued up about the dire state of pedestrian priority and amenity.

      Trying to google where things are at, I discovered this, which points towards the accessible streets work the government is doing:


      It seems there are proposals to change the land transport rules to improve the safety of vulnerable users at intersections, amongst other things.

  2. Removing the “Pedestrians give way to vehicles” signs from Henderson and Ranui would help.
    I recently spent a week in Sydney. I was amazed at how quick to the brake motorists when I approached a Pedestrian Crossing. Somehow I thing that the Police in NSW have different priorities to NZ Police.

    1. Agree. These signs have trained drivers to ignore pedestrians standing at a “pedestrian crossing – like” crossing.

      There was plenty of guidance in international safety literature from the 90’s about the way that drivers learn from the driving culture around them.

      The decision to start installing these seems to have been made around 1994. I think that decision was made in a vacuum of focus on vulnerable users, and in a vacuum of competency around safety.

      Continuing to allow these devices is unforgiveable now that Safety is our Top Priority, and Austroads says that the design must start by focusing on the vulnerable user.

      1. using petone -nguaranga as an example, if we are focussing on vunerable users does that mean we mighy see immediate temporary modifications to the highway hard shoulder as the approved shared path is five years from completion?

      2. If safety is our top priority why aren’t we spending large to fix the problems? If we look at following Vision Zero it requires a huge amount on money to be spent making roads safer.

  3. This also needs to extend to driveway.

    Cars moving in and out from their private driveways should always give way to pedestrians.

    At the moment it is kind of a grey area and cars sometimes should speed in and out from driveway. This is a big problem when the visibility is blocked by trees or concealed exits with low setbacks.

    1. If I recall correctly, legally there is no grey area. Vehicles on a driveway crossing a footpath must yield to pedestrians walking along the footpath. And, by the way, the legal status of land as footpath or driveway is not affected by the fact that someone may have built a kerb across the footpath. Correct me if I’m wrong.

      1. Yes legally it is very clear — but you’re going to end up in hospital just the same.

        What I also wonder is why is it legal at all to build kerbs across a footpath.

        1. Sounds like we an action plan:

          1. Public awareness education – Like an TV Ad saying how a crossing pedestrians get hit by car going though driveway and the driver get caught and jailed.

          2. police enforcement Exercises – like having a hidden polices hidden around hot spots with video cam and start fining drivers

          3. Planning rules needs to adjust – extra visibility requirements around kerbs and the maximum width try to minimize the numbers of kerbs

          4. Dangerous kerbs with high accident rate and low visibility should have zebra crossing paint, blocking trees trimmed, and bump applied

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