After spending time in various parts of Europe I have learnt that if you want to cross a road safely in Europe you have to take strangely varying tactics. Below I have a list of Countries and capitals (I have separated capitals from their countries because they often have their own driving styles) which will grow, hopefully, as I gain experience in more locations. Please feel free to add to my database:
  • Britain - Often considered to be the safest place to cross the road but not completely true. If there is a zebra crossing, wait on the pavement and cars will happily stop to let you cross. Do not step out into the path of an incoming car! British drivers are very happy to cede their right of way if asked nicely. If it is demanded of them they will do everything in their power to keep it!!
  • France - Waiting on the pavement by a crossing is nigh on useless. To get the French to stop you normally have to take at least one step into the road. The cars on the far carriageway will not necessarily stop until you have taken your second or third step
  • Paris - Don't even think about it!! if you have to cross the road take a taxi.
  • Rome - Often considered the most dangerous place to cross the road but is actually quite safe, if you ignore all roadmarkings and signs, that is. The Romans have learnt that crossing on a zebra crossing under a green man is no safer than an unmarked road. Just because you can see green do not expect that the drivers are being shown red because they are not!! Therefore the way to cross the road in Rome is just to close your eyes and walk. Rome drivers are aggressive but they seem quite happy to give way to a kamikazi pedestrian. It's the unsure tourists they aim for...
  • French Switzerland (Geneva region) - Do not try the Rome tactics here. The Swiss have laws against crossing anywhere other than under a green man and the drivers get irate if you don't follow them. Very few crossings do not have red/green men and it is a common sight to see a Swiss standing at one of these crossings confusedly looking for the light.
  • Denmark - Very similar system to Britain, we seem far too closely related, maybe it's because we both have a monarchy.

reply to iain - Yeah, all nations seem to have a law saying that cars must give way to a pedestrian who has started to cross the road on a crossing without lights, including Britain. The British don't have to stop for somebody with both feet on the pavement - we just consider it extremely impolite not to.

Just a quick update on the British road-crossing scenario: vehicles are required by law to give way to pedestrians wanting to cross the road at a zebra crossing. The only time they don't have to stop is if it would be unsafe for them to do so. However in London and the other major cities, where traffic density is very high and the law of the road becomes survival of the fittest this rule is not adhered to as strictly as it ought to be.

And to reply to McSey, in Britain we drive on the right side of the road, which is of course the left side :-)

Also, in the UK, remember to look to your right, left, and right again as the British drive on the wrong side of the road;)

Also my sister says that Finland is much like Switzerland in that you can get arrested for jaywalking -- use the crosswalk.

The green man is normally taken as the universal symbol for "Cross Now", but my experience of Paris is that the symbol should be taken to mean: "Cross now, if you've got the balls".

Here in Ireland, it is normally sufficient to fix motorists with a steely glare to intimidate them into giving way to you. Although the positioning of pedestrian crossings is apparently quite random, you rarely need them here in Dublin anyway, as the traffic is so bad you can simply weave your way across between the stationary vehicles.

OK, I have to admit that the British indeed are very sane drivers at least compared to the Greek (depending on where you are the drivers completly ignore red traffic lights, so you just wait near the road until there are so few cars you can make a suicide attempt to reach the other side) and French.

But I never was so often so near of getting killed by a car like in England. Because of my own stupidity and the British driving on the wrong side of the road (Hey, fondue: we drive on the right side of the road, you drive on the left side). In London it is a litte bit easier because on the sides of most streets is written "look left". They seem to have lost quite a number of tourists there.

In Germany this is very harmless, as judges tend to punish the driver even if it was most part fault of the person getting over the road. So just pass the road if you're sure the driver has seen you and has some time to slow down.

On Tenerife (a Spanish colony, so technically part of Europe, even if it is just off the African coast) you are seriously taking your life in your hands when crossing the road.

Zebra crossings exist but are totally meaningless. You have to spot a gap between moving cars and go for it, then wait repeat the procedure for the next lane, which is quite unnerving when the drivers are blazing past very close to you, with a blatant disregard for the speed limits. If this weren't dangerous enough, the problem is exacerbated at night when the volume of traffic is no less (in fact it is probably more) than during the daytime, as foreign tourists, stumbling around in their alcohol fuddled state, revert to their relative national road crossing style, I went to the nearest zebra crossing after a particularly heavy night and, expecting the taxis to stop, boldly stepped out into the middle of the road. Fortunately the taxi did stop .........with its bumper touching my leg.

In Finland, the Swedish system where all laws are obeyed, even if they don't make any sense, has become more rational. The law states that the pedestrians have the right for way when they have stepped on the crosswalk, when there are no traffic lights. In practice this means that the drivers will not run over you, but try to prevent being mutually exclusive spatially. The pedestrian should aim at this goal also. If you have to decide whose turn it is, that is social behaviour, which is to be prevented by the Finns at any cost!

First, try to see whether you can avoid the whole thing. Go before or after the car. There are few places in Finland where there even is so heavy traffic that the way for you wouldn't be clear quickly. If you stand there on the pavement waiting, no driver will even notice you. Step on the the road after one car has gone, and so the second car will stop for you, if the driver isn't aggressive, so-called juvenile, blind or stupid. The cars will go behind and in front of you, if they have time. When there are traffic lights, you can jaywalk quite freely. Go against the red light, when there are no cars that can run over you. If there are cars, the drivers will be annoyed. At least I was, when one pedestrian shot out right in front of my car without warning. The place wasn't a crosswalk, either.

In Belgium, road rules and behaviour are broadly similar to those in France (including the rule of priorité à droite no longer used in France, but maintained in Belgium as a result of lobbying by manufacturers of headlight glass and replacement wings); the Belgians have a reputation in France as being bad drivers, probably harking back to the relatively recent introduction of driving testing (in the 1960s) as well as common racial stereotyping, and do tend to be somewhat informal in their approach to driving. However, the road laws do make a driver who is in collision with a "soft" target - pedestrian, cyclist, horse rider, moped rider - automatically liable for personal injuries under all circumstances unless the pedestrian really was trying to throw themselves under their wheels, and in the vast majority of cases for damage to property as well.

Drivers are required to give way to you if you are crossing a zebra crossing, but this does not mean they have to stop for the entire duration of your passage (as in the UK). You therefore need to be prepared for traffic continuing to pass in front of and behind you as you walk across. The finest example of this in my experience is the crossing at the south-eastern corner of the Warande/Parc de Bruxelles, in front of the royal palace: here three four/six lane roads (varying with traffic density), including main routes into the city meet at roughly 120 degree angles, with no road markings whatsoever apart from a single fifty metre zebra crossing from the park towards the former royal stables. The road surface is cobbled, the sight lines for a pedestrian crossing from the park side are zero, and the junction is a priorité à droite one. The secret is just to stroll straight across it, ignoring all cars. There is a lot of space, and they'll be aiming to miss. They just won't actually stop under any circumstances, but I never had any problem there in a year of using it as my route to work.

At light-controlled (pelican) crossings in normal traffic conditions it is generally advisable to wait for the green man; attempts to predict a safe crossing time by watching the traffic lights always seem to end up with you still standing on the pavement when everybody else has already started crossing because they were watching the green man. There is no general social opprobrium attached to crossing against the lights when clearly safe to do so (although I did get ticked off by the Brussels police for it once, and there are some very complex road systems in that city).

Crossing at uncontrolled road junctions without traffic lights, you need to be aware of the priorité à droite thing. This does have the benefit that most drivers approach such junctions with a fair degree of caution; however, vehicles entering a main road from the right have priority only if they keep moving, so drivers coming out of a side road you are crossing may well not be very enthusiastic about your stepping out in front of them. Traffic turning into a side road has to give way to pedestrians by law, and usually does so.

I do not know if you consider Russia to be part of Europe but here are simple tips for those curious and brave enough to ever come here.

Forget everything you learned about crossing roads. France has the highest in Europe rate of fatal traffic accidents. Still, in Russia the rate (per capita) is 3 times higher! There are about 60000 deaths per year!

When you cross the street, look to the left, look to the right. If there are no cars visible, you can cross safely. If there are cars, wait until they all stop (they should do it if it is a crossing and there are traffic lights) and then cross. If you are jaywalking, try to avoid the cars. Run if you have to. It is considered polite for pedastrians not to cause any inconvenience for cars.

Beware the cars that are turning at the crossroad. If you see a green light, that only means that cars going straight on the street you are crossing have to stop. The cars that are turning to this street and have to cross your path will not let you go first. Either run or wait for them to go. Look at other pedastrians. No driver would want to kill several pedastrians at once - that will get them in serious trouble. Use the kids, old people and mothers with baby carriages as a cover (I am serious). Use the trams and other cars as a cover whenever possible (again, I am serious - no driver would want to hit a tram).

A few weeks ago I was crossing a street and a car didn't stop. It just slowed and slightly pushed me. I was quick to get away from it, but it would be pointless to argue with him afterwards or call for police. :(

Avoid bad drivers. If you see a black BMW ignoring the red light at the crossroad, do not expect him to stop when he sees the pedastrian crossing the road (although, most will make some effort to avoid killing you). Be especially aware of "8" and "9" models of VAZ (see http://www.vaz.ru/imgs/news/miniphoto/_2108.jpg). These cars were introduced in early 90-s and many of them were bough by those Russian who got some money at that time - not all of them criminals, but anyway. Drivers that have older cars usually learned to drive in USSR, when situation was much better. Drivers that have newer cars are those who earned their money recently, when Russia is a more civilized place. Many of them are relatively lawful middle-class people that sometimes show some respect to pedastrians.

It is considered a bit dangerous for Russian to spend a lot of time in the West, because they might lose their caution and be hit by a car when they are back.

Good luck!

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