A quick reminder about traffic

I just have to say this.

When you’re running, if there is no sidewalk, and you must run in the road, you’re supposed to be facing traffic.  That is, running into traffic, running toward the cars that are coming toward you.  Cars are not supposed to come up behind you in the same lane and pass by your left shoulder.  This applies to all pedestrians, runners and walkers alike.

Normally, when runners explain this, they say, “Well, it’s so that you can see the cars nearest you, and they can see you.”  Very well.  But that is not sufficient.  That’s not the whole reason, and it’s not the only thing that matters.  The driver must see you, and you must see him, but the driver must also know that you see him.  If he comes up behind you, he cannot be sure that you see him.

See?  By running in the left lane, you can (and should) do something that shows the driver that you see him.  If you are already as far to the edge of the road as you can safely be (and please don’t go too far into the grass and rocks — you could twist your ankle and fall into the road), you are doing well, but it’s helpful to also look up at the driver for a few seconds, or wave, or nod.  If you are not as far to the side as you could safely be, get over, even if the driver is giving you plenty of space.  And do it earlier than necessary.  This way, he’ll know that you see him.  If there’s no room to get over, and the driver can’t leave you any space because of traffic in the other lane, or because of a narrow road, just stop.  This won’t give him any more room, but it will make him feel better.

If the driver doesn’t know that you see him, he’s apt to become even more annoyed than he already is (if he thinks you’re on the “wrong” side), and he might not give you as much space as he should, just to put you in your place.  Or, he’ll honk, which will startle you, even though you already saw him, and confirm his belief that “these crazy runners don’t pay attention,” even though you were.  Or, if he’s trying to be nice, he might give you too much space by going too far into the other lane, which could mess up the traffic over there.  Then everyone’s inconvenienced.

Furthermore, showing that you see him is polite and would be worth doing even if it weren’t a matter of safety.  The same etiquette applies when you’re just walking on the sidewalk.  When people are coming toward you, I think it’s nice to move over, go single file, or hop down into the street early, so there’s no awkward, are-they-going-to-move-or-do-we-have-to dance.  It’s just polite.  It shows them you’re not a sidewalk hog.  When running, it shows the driver that you don’t think you own the road, that runners aren’t totally self-involved.

There are circumstances under which it is actually safer to run with traffic, but they are few.  On a winding road, where you would be invisible to an oncoming driver until he was right upon you, and until it was too late for him to move, and where there’s no room for him to move because there happens to be traffic in the other narrow, winding lane too, it might be best to run with traffic, unless the other lane would present the same problem.  If you’re running at a time of day when the traffic is significantly heavier in the left lane, you might consider moving to the other side, especially if you won’t be on that road very long.  Of course, in both cases, I’d suggest changing your route so you aren’t regularly running on the wrong side.  But if you find yourself on a route like this and there’s no turning back, well, there you are.  Whenever I’m in one of these situations, I wish I could wear a sign, saying, “I know this is the wrong side, but I’ve thought about this very carefully, and this is truly safer under these peculiar circumstances.”  But that’s a lot of words for a sign I’d have to wear, and my goodness, wouldn’t that distract the drivers more than anything?

Runner’s World offers more traffic safety tips for runners here.

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