How many times have you witnessed this scenario – a person in dark clothing wearing headphones, walking on the right (as opposed to left) side of the road; oblivious, tuned out and unaware of the cars around them? Or a couple/group of friends/family walking together on a nice afternoon sprawled out across the road? In a town like mine where sidewalks are nonexistent, roads are just wide enough for two cars to get by, and the curvy roads hide anything that may lurk around the corner, these practices can be deadly.
For those of you who are runners/cyclists/walkers who are inclined to say, “Eff them…cars should be sharing the road with us,” consider this: as a runner myself, I’m hyper-aware of pedestrians and yet I’ve been taken by surprise when I, as the driver, didn’t spot a pedestrian who (to put it bluntly), was being stupid. So, as we embark on the dog days of summer when the air is warm, sun is shining, and we strive to lose a few extra pounds, I thought I would post the following road-sharing best-practices.
Before you read on, watch this short video.
So, here are a few safe road rules to live by. Remember that there are always exceptions to these rules, so always use your best judgement.
Make sure someone knows you’re going out and where – this is self-explanatory.
Bring ID – when I first started running, I’d write my phone number on my arm in ballpoint pen. Then I bought a dog-tag at a pet store and attached this to my shoe. Eventually, I bought an ID band designed for cyclists and runners. In a pinch, I’ve thrown my drivers’ license into the bottom of my shoe and/or a sheet of paper under my insole. While some methods are better than others (for example, in an accident, your shoe can fly off your foot), something is always better than nothing. Also remember that if you have allergies, it’s always good to write that down (I have a penicillin allergy).
Assume a car cannot see you – if you hear/see an approaching car, don’t assume that they can see you. The angle of the sun, personal distractions – texting, radio, kids, phone call – may make it so that they’re not paying attention. You must be on the defensive when it comes to this because in the game of chicken between cars and pedestrians, the pedestrian is ALWAYS going to lose.
Alter your path – there was a local woman a few years ago who was assaulted while out on an early morning run. Her pattern was predictable – same route, same time every morning, and the thought was that her attacker had tracked her for a while. Alter you path so that potential stalkers won’t be able to predict where you’ll be and when.
Wear clothing that stands out from the background – I’m always amazed at the number of people I see wearing DARK clothing – we’re talking brown, black, navy blue. As drivers, our eyes are trained to spot the outliers. If you’re wearing dark clothing, you’ll blend into the background. Night exercising aside (see video above), you should always wear something that’s not part of the natural background…even white blends in sometimes. Think OBNOXIOUS – hot pink, fluorescent green, bright orange – and you should be OK.
Run AGAINST traffic, not with traffic – Unless some condition such as no shoulders or heavy crossing makes it unsafe, then you should always run against traffic. For most places in the US, this means that you’d run on the left side of the road. By doing so, you’ll be able to spot cars coming towards you and act defensively if needed. That being said, if there’s a sidewalk available, always opt for the sidewalk instead of the road.
Move aside when a car approaches – If you’re with a group and are running two or three people wide, move into single file and to the shoulder of the road when a car approaches. This will give the car enough space to get by and/or maneuver out of the way if they have to.
And finally (and most controversial)…
NO HEADPHONES – I cannot stand when I see some person running with headphones, completely clueless to the environment around them. Listening to music not only drowns out the noises around you, it makes you zone out. I tell new runners to ditch headphones when they run on the road. If you must have headphones, leave one ear unplugged so that you can hear other things around you. This is important for more than just traffic noises – if someone is approaching you from behind, you’re more likely to hear them if you don’t have your ear buds in.
As an added precaution to the above, I usually carry my cellphone with my GPS turned on. This enables me to call someone if I need to, and/or my family to track me if anything ever happens. While it may be an act of paranoia, in this case, safe is always better than sorry.