Research With Respect to the Claim of a Pedestrian False Sense of Security

Following is research uncovered with respect to the claim pedestrians experience a 'false sense of security' at marked crosswalks.
US Department of Transportation Report (the full report can be found at with the relevant section copied in its entirety below).  Although the sample sizes are small the situation with the lowest level of pedestrian caution (measured by pedestrian looking behaviour) was at the control site with no markings.  Looking behaviors increase where there were markings, contrary to any false sense of security claims.
"It has long been contended by those opposed to marking pedestrian crosswalks that pedestrians act more carelessly when the crosswalks are marked because they feel the crosswalk markings provide an increased measure of protection."
"This suggests that pedestrians are not any less careful in a high-visibility crosswalk."

"Finally there was alos no evidence of increased pedestrian overconfidence, as indicated by pedestrians running and/or rushing in crosswalks..." 

"In summary … there was no evidence of pedestrian overconfidence or aggressiveness associated with these (high-visibility) crosswalks."

This reference is in addition to other conclusions uncovered
"These behavioral results tend to contradict the false sense of security claims attributed to marked crosswalks, since observed pedestrian behavior actually improved after marked crosswalks were installed at the study sites" (US Department of Transportation - Safety Effects of Marked Versus Unmarked Crosswalks at Uncontrolled Locations Final Report and Recommended Guidelines - FHWA Publication Number: HRT-04-100 - September 2005 - - Page 49)
"These studies found pedestrian behavior to be, if anything, slightly better in the presence of marked crosswalks in comparison to unmarked crosswalks.  Certainly the results show no indication of an increase of reckless or incautious pedestrian behavior associated with marked crosswalks" (US Department of Transportation - Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Centre - FHWA Publication Number: HRT-04-100 - September 2005 - - Page 8)
"In 1999, Knoblauch and his colleagues carried out a study intended to directly observe incautious or reckless pedestrian behavior, such as Herms and others postulated to exist, and that might account for the negative crash results reported in some studies. They found no such behavior (Knoblauch, 1999).  (US Department of Transportation -  - FHWA Publication Number: RD-03-042 -  Part 3 - Overview of Pedestrian Crash Countermeasures and Safety Programs November 2003 -
"No difference was seen in blatantly aggressive pedestrian behavior whether the crossing was marked or not." (US Department of Transportation -  - FHWA Publication Number: RD-03-042 -  Part 3 - Overview of Pedestrian Crash Countermeasures and Safety Programs November 2003 -
"Looking behavior increased significantly after crosswalk markings were installed. No evidence was seen that the pedestrians were less vigilant in a marked crosswalk compared to one not marked." (US Department of Transportation -  - FHWA Publication Number: RD-03-042 -  Part 3 - Overview of Pedestrian Crash Countermeasures and Safety Programs November 2003 -
There is a very informative article that can be found at
The article reads (emphasis added)

"Crosswalks, Uncontrolled

Uncontrolled crosswalks are marked crosswalks where no traffic controls such as a stop sign or signal exist. Such markings have become much rarer since the early 1970s, as traffic engineers have systematically removed marked crosswalks from uncontrolled locations, believing the markings provide a "false sense of security."  Recent studies suggest the story is far more complicated.


Livable streets guru Dan Burden observes that able-bodied pedestrians will not generally walk more than approximately 150 feet to reach a controlled crosswalk.  Along corridors where controlled intersections are farther apart than 300 feet, this means a lot of pedestrians will be crossing illegally mid-block, or at uncontrolled intersections, such as where a 2-lane residential street intersects with a 4-lane arterial.

Engineers are appropriately cautious about placing a crosswalk in any uncontrolled location, especially if the street is a multi-lane collector. Unfortunately, engineers have erred in the other direction, removing crosswalks and pronouncing pedestrians safer as a result.

"False Sense of Security" Theory

For many years, where and when to paint a crosswalk in the U.S. has been decided on the basis of popular assumptions from a single study, published in 1972. [1] The so-called "Herms Study" of crosswalks at uncontrolled intersections in San Diego, California, found there were more pedestrians struck (per person crossing) at uncontrolled intersections where a crosswalk was marked than in those left unmarked.  However, Herms did not account for the fact that markings were probably provided at precisely those locations where pedestrian/vehicle conflicts were an issue.

But neither did the study conclude all marked crosswalks are unsafe.  Yet, that is the common misinterpretation by the traffic engineering profession.  Rather unfortunately, Herms also speculated that marked crosswalks at uncontrolled intersections may give a "false sense of security" to pedestrians using them. On the basis of this "theory" engineers have been removing marked crosswalks for decades, and failing to provide new ones in critical locations.

Debunking the "False Sense of Security" Theory

The Herms Study's theory of pedestrian behavior has been debunked by more recent studies. Knoblauch et al. [2] found that pedestrians exhibit more, not less caution, in a crossing location after a crosswalk has been marked (the comparison was at the same location, before and after the crosswalk was marked.)  For their part, drivers were found to slow down slightly when approaching the marked crosswalks.  This does not mean it is safe to provide a crosswalk anywhere, some locations are too dangerous.  Rather, it indicates that crosswalk markings, appropriate signage, and other safety measures aimed at warming motorists should not be avoided on the theory that they induce a"false sense of security" in pedestrians.  Advocates for pedestrian safety are justifiably weary of hearing this phrase, especially given its shaky empirical underpinnings.

To clarify once and for all where crosswalks may be marked, the Federal Department of Transportation conducted a study which examined thousands of pedestrian crashes in all 50 states and set guidelines for installing marked crosswalks.  This so-called Zegeer Study [3] is the most thorough of its kind ever conducted.  Importantly, it controlled for pedestrian volume and crosswalk location and has a more than adequate sample size, all serious flaws of earlier studies.

New Federal Guidelines for Crosswalks

The federal guidelines resulting from the Zegeer Study indicate that, as an example, a marked crosswalk is safe to provide for a 2-lane road if the speed limit does not exceed 40 mph and traffic volumes fall below 12,000 daily trips.  This assumes there are no unusual circumstances, such as a blind curve, a visibility problem, or a high volume of large trucks.  If any of these conditions occur, a marked crosswalk alone provides no safety advantage. The authors emphasize that,

"in most cases, marked crosswalks are best used in combination with other treatments (e.g., curb extensions, raised crossing islands, traffic signals, roadway narrowing, enhanced overhead lighting, traffic calming measures, etc.).  Think of marked crosswalks as one option in a progression of design treatments.  If one treatment does not adequately accomplish the task, then move on to the next one.  Failure of one particular treatment is not a license to give up and do nothing.  In all cases, the final design must accomplish the goal of getting pedestrians across the road safely."

Other than the referenced Herms study (which apparently speculated but never demonstrated the theory) the only actual reference I have been able to find with respect to pedestrian false feeling of safety is an analysis of zebra crossings conducted in Sweden (  That study concluded crossings with zebra markings experienced more accidents than those without.
"The general explanation for these remarkable results was that pedestrians experience a false feeling of safety when protected by zebra marking or signalization.  Another way of presenting it could be that pedestrians cross more carefully when no help is provided" (US Department of Transportation -  - FHWA Publication Number: RD-99-091 -  Pedestrian Safety in Sweden - December 1999 -
Again this is simply a "general explanation", "it could be".  This view is simply a hypothesis with no data or research to support it being the reason or explanation for the result.  It is one theory, a theory that is contradicted by all the conclusions quoted above.
The position that there is a 'false sense of security' at marked crosswalks appears to be just that, a claim or theory, with no supporting data or research. 

From the U.S. Department of Transportation

Report No. FHWA-RD-00-105   August 2001

An Evaluation of High-Visibility Crosswalk Treatment – Clearwater, Florida


Pedestrian Looking Behavior


To check this hypothesis, the looking behavior of pedestrians crossing was observed in both the experimental (high-visibility markings) and control (either unmarked crosswalks or crosswalks with standard markings) locations.  As described, the observation procedure involved two observers; one recording the pedestrians looking behavior and the other noting the presence of approaching vehicles.  The vehicle volumes at all the sites were such that very few of the pedestrians crossed when no vehicle was approaching the crosswalk.  Therefore, the date shown in Table 5 represent the looking behavior of pedestrians crossing when there was at least one vehicle approaching.  At the two experimental sites 88.2 percent and 93.3 percent of the pedestrians looked at least once toward approaching traffic.  At the control location, 76.5 percent and 100 percent of the pedestrians were observed looking at traffic.


Table 5.  Clearwater:  Pedestrians Looking at Least Once While Crossing


Site No..

Site Type

Pedestrians Who Looked At Least Once




Experimental; high visibility crosswalk, refuge island




Control: no crosswalk markings – intersection




Experimental: high-visibility crosswalk, refuge island




Control: standard crosswalk marking – mid-block




An examination of pedestrian looking behavior found no (statistical) differences between the experimental and control locations.  This suggests that pedestrians are not any less careful in a high-visibility crosswalk.

Finally there was also no evidence of increased pedestrian overconfidence, as indicated by pedestrians running and/or rushing in the crosswalks…   In summary … there was no evidence of pedestrian overconfidence or aggressiveness associated with these crosswalks.