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Why don’t Danish drivers stop at pedestrian crossings?

Danes adhere to pedestrian traffic lights, but it's a different matter at some pedestrian crossings. Sarah Redohl explores why many Danish drivers don't put the brakes on when approaching a crossing, but also why it's not motorists who pose the biggest danger to pedestrians.

Why don't Danish drivers stop at pedestrian crossings?
Why don't Danish drivers stop at pedestrian crossings? Photo: Katie E / Pexels

Crossing Amager Strandvej in Copenhagen on my daily jog is always an exercise in tenacity.

As I come up to the pedestrian crossing at Italiensvej, I steel myself to stick one foot onto the crosswalk and hope the passing drivers come to a complete stop.

Standing at the crosswalk waiting for drivers to stop of their own volition very rarely works out. Lock eyes with passing motorists? They just zip right by.

After hundreds of identical incidents, I’ve discovered that unless your foot is in the crosswalk, Danes are unlikely to stop at pedestrian crosswalks. 

When I brought this up to a foreigner who’s lived in Denmark for more than a decade, he shrugged it off. “Yeah,” he said, “Danes don’t stop for pedestrians at crosswalks.”

Why don’t Danes stop for pedestrians?

I found this strange for a number of reasons. 

Not only do Danes have an almost humorous adherence to pedestrian traffic laws (even when there isn’t a single car in sight), but they also tend to follow the rule of law in general. 

“If there is a law, the majority of Danes usually follow it,” said Anne Brix Christiansen, chairman of the Danish Pedestrian Society (Dansk Fodgænger Forbund – DFF)

“If there’s a yield sign at the crosswalk, people tend to adhere to them, but there are a lot of crosswalks that don’t have yield signs,” Christiansen said. This leaves some ambiguity for law-abiding Danes.

Although there are clear-cut right-of-way rules when it comes to bicyclists that most motorists seem to know and follow to the letter, that doesn’t seem to be the case for pedestrians. 

“This country is full of cyclists,” Christiansen said, adding that most Danes are taught the rules of cycling safely when they are quite young. That’s not necessarily true for pedestrians. “I think cycling safety gets more attention than pedestrian safety here because it’s so visible.”

Back in 2015, the DFF wanted pedestrians to use the same hand signals cyclists use. Perhaps that would extend to pedestrians the same clarity drivers have for cyclists.

For better or worse, that request never caught on (at least in Copenhagen). My crosswalk confusion remained. 

Copenhagen is home to one of Europe’s longest pedestrian-only streets. Strøget is a 1.1 km pedestrian, car free shopping street. Photo: Philip Davali/Ritzau Scanpix

Who has the right of way?

According to the Danish police, students at Danish driving schools are taught to yield to pedestrians when they are close to the crosswalk. Those who don’t will fail their driver’s test.

However, outside of driving school, fines are only levied against drivers who don’t stop for pedestrians if part of the pedestrian’s body is in the crosswalk. If a pedestrian stops alongside the crosswalk and waits, cars can pass them by all day long. 

“If your foot is not in the crossing zone, they don’t have to stop,” I was told via the Danish police’s service line. “The second your foot is in that area, the cars have to wait until you cross.”

The Danish Pedestrian Society’s Christiansen said much the same: “It’s very visible in driver’s education here that you have to stop for pedestrians about to enter the crosswalk.” But, that isn’t always the case in the real world, she added. 

“Drivers should stop when they see someone near the crosswalk,” she said, “that’s what they’re taught. But I know there are a lot of drivers who don’t do that.”

Doesn’t that seem dangerous?

In my native United States, pedestrian crossings are clearly marked with yield signs and many, with orange flashing lights to remind drivers that pedestrians have the right of way. And yet, pedestrian fatalities in the U.S. are more than five times more common than they are in Denmark (even when you factor in population differences). 

In 2020, 23 pedestrians were killed in road accidents in Denmark, and 372 were injured, according to Danmarks Statistik. That’s down from 44 pedestrian fatalities in Denmark a decade ago.

For Christiansen, it’s actually cyclists who pose a greater threat to pedestrian safety in Denmark – and those numbers often go uncounted. 

“Pedestrians involved in accidents with cars are almost always counted in the statistics,” Christiansen said. “But when it comes to pedestrians and bikes, we don’t often know because many of those go unreported.”

These “dark numbers” are the focus of DFF’s July 5th meeting, its first since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020. She said it’s also an issue Denmark’s Ministry of Transportation is aiming to resolve.

Proceed with caution

When asked what people can do to improve pedestrian safety, Christiansen’s answer was clear: “Adhere to the rules” – whether you’re a pedestrian, a bicycle or a car. 

If you walk up next to a crosswalk and the cars still don’t stop, despite what they learned in driver’s education? Carefully stick your foot out into the crosswalk.

“If you look like you’re going to cross, especially if you put your foot out, they will stop,” Christiansen said.

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How and when should I exchange my foreign driving licence for a Danish one?

Foreign residents of Denmark are required to exchange their foreign driving licence for a Danish one after moving to Denmark.

How and when should I exchange my foreign driving licence for a Danish one?

The rules for when a foreign driving licence must be exchanged for a Danish licence depend on the country which issued the original licence.

You must change your foreign licence for a Danish one within 90 days of moving to the country (meaning the date on which you arrived in Denmark with the purpose of staying).

At the time of writing, the 90-day deadline is extended to 180 days due to delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

EU and EEA countries

If you have a driving licence issued in the EU or EEA (Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein), you can use it in Denmark. You can freely exchange the licence for a Danish licence without having to take an additional driving test.

Australia (Capital Territory only), Brazil, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Russia, Switzerland and Ukraine

Driving licences issued in the above countries and territories can also be exchanged for Danish licences without taking any additional test.

In addition to your existing licence, you must also submit a medical declaration from your doctor and a signed written declaration that you have not been disqualified from driving within the last five years. Your licence must not be restricted or issued under special conditions.

It should be noted that the above only applies for category B driving licences. This is the category for driving a normal car. For other types of category such as motorcycle or HGV licences, it is necessary to take an additional test in order to exchange your foreign licence for a Danish one.

Singapore, United States, Canada, Australia, Chile, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, New Zealand, Isle of Man (UK) and Israel

For the above countries and territories, the same conditions apply as for the non-EU/EEA countries listed further above.

Additionally, you must also submit a declaration that you have two years’ effective (reel) in Danish driving experience. In other words, you must have driven regular for at least two years and not had a driving licence for five years or more without having done any driving.

United Kingdom after Brexit

The UK does not neatly fit into any of the above categories because the applicable rules depend on whether your licence was issued before or after the UK left the EU.

In short, you can exchange your licence in line with EU rules if it was issued before Brexit, but UK licences issued after January 1st 2021 are treated as “third country” driving licences.

The rules for exchanging UK driving licences in Denmark following Brexit are set out in more detail in this article.

Other foreign driving licences

Driving licences issued in all other countries can be used to drive in Denmark for up to 90 days after you are registered as living in the country.

Danish rules permit the use of foreign driving licences printed in English (or French) with Latin letters, or if it is accompanied by an English, French or Danish translation. If your licence does not meet this, you may be required to obtain an international licence before driving in Denmark.

You will be required to take what is termed in Danish a kontrollerende køreprøve (“control driving test”) to be able to exchange your foreign licence for a Danish one.

What is a ‘control driving test’?

The Danish Road Traffic Authority website states that a control driving test or kontrollerende køreprøve consists of a theory and practical element. Driving lessons are not mandatory for the test, unlike with the regular driving test given to new drivers.

Drivers taking the test must supply their own vehicle and applications are made via their home municipality.

Where do I go to exchange my licence?

The application form for exchanging to a Danish driving license can be found on the Local Government Denmark (KL) website.

The form must be handed in at a municipal Borgerservice (“Citizens’ Service”). Check the website of your local municipality to find out where the Borgerservice is located in your area. You may be required to make an appointment (or it might be better to do so to avoid a queue).

You’ll need to bring your existing licence, passport and a photo (see here for the photo specifications) when you hand in your licence for exchange. You’ll also need your Danish residence permit.

More information on the application process can be found on the Danish citizen and residents’ platform

A fee of 280 kroner is charged to exchange a foreign driving licence for a Danish one.

Sources: Færdselsstyrelsen,