Updated: Aug 24, 2019
Whether you are running downtown metro streets or a country bumkpin road, staying safe while next to traffic is a top priority. Here are a few basic and unconventional tips I've learned to stay safe on the road. Read to the end to see what I think is the most important unconventional tip to protect yourself from cars.
1. Face Oncoming Traffic
Have you ever gone running, got in the zone and then a car speeds past and scares the crud out of you?
Most drivers are courteous and will move over when they see a runner ahead, but not all do. Some drivers are just plain jerks and intentionally drive as close to the line as they can, while other are not paying attention because they are distracted with their phones, kids or who knows what else, causing them to sometimes drive over the line.
This is why runners should always run against oncoming traffic and on the shoulder when on the road. Doing so allows you to you to see cars that are coming toward you and whether or not they are actually paying attention.
2. Stay Off the Road, if Possible
Listen, I much prefer to run on the asphalt than sidewalk. Asphalt absorbs the impact better and is less hard on the body. If I can find a quiet street to run on, then I’m on the asphalt.
However, when running on busy roads or quiet roads with cars driving by fast, I remind myself of a story I heard years ago. There was a mining company looking to hire a driver who would have to drive next to a cliff. When the employer asked the first interviewee what his skill level was driving next to a cliff, he said that he could drive a foot from the edge and be fine. The second interviewee said he could drive inches from the edge and be fine. The third said he could drive right on the edge and be still fine. While what each of the three interviewees said was probably true, it was the fourth interviewee who was hired because his response was, “I stay as far away from the edge as I can.”
Don’t be cocky and don’t get killed. If there is a shoulder, sidewalk or trail next to a busy road then just take it. If there are no other options, simply stay as far away from the lines as you can and be courteous.
3. Coming Around a Blind Curve
The last thing you want to do is scare a driver and make them swerve. Usually, blind curves are not much of an issue on city streets, but on frontage roads, low traffic roads and country roads, it is not uncommon to have trees blocking your view of oncoming traffic and a driver’s view of you.
If I see a blind curve coming up, I try to briefly switch sides of the road before I get to the curve to ensure that oncoming drivers and I have a better view of each other. This can be annoying on winding roads, so just use good judgment. A hand wave and bright colored clothes always help too (see below).
4. Intersections & Road Crossings
Take the crosswalks. Obey the lights. Never try to beat a car coming toward you to get across the street. Be smart. Don’t be stupid. Plain and simple. You may be able to jaywalk at times when the coast is clear and be fine, but just pay attention...for all that is good in the world.
5. Drivers Turning Right
You read that correctly. I rarely worry above drivers turning left, because its drivers turning right that never pay attention to runners. I think this is the most important unconventional tip that I can give to a runner.
Drivers turning right are always so focused on looking left at oncoming traffic before they turn onto a perpendicular road. They only look right after they start turning right.
I’ve lived and ran in several cities and this is a phenomenon that I have always keenly paid attention to—you know—so I don’t get killed. Every road run I go on, I still find at least one driver who fails to look right before they start turning right as I approach an intersection. I’ve had so many drivers start turning right and then abruptly put on the brakes when they see me. I just wait and chuckle when their eyes go wide.
I also try to wave at them to try to get their attention before I try to cross. Very rarely, I sometimes tap cars to get the driver's attention when they pull up quickly in the middle of the crosswalk as I start to cross.
6. Wave to Drivers
Speaking of waving…. You may think that drivers see you, but they really have no idea that you are there. It’s reassuring to know that drivers see you. Wave to drivers on the road and at intersections (and maybe even just try it to meet new people, haha). It may sound dumb, but it’s really effective. You don’t have to do a huge wave or a pageant wave. Just quickly raise your hand up from your elbow to see if the driver will acknowledge that they see you too with a wave or nod back. Easy.
7. Brightly Colored Clothes
When I ran sprints in track growing up, I always wondered why distance runners wore absurd colors and awfully patterned clothes. Now, I find myself looking for the loudest colors that I can. Although, I still wonder about some of the awful patterns some runners choose to wear (keep it cool kids).
The obvious reason for wearing brightly colored clothing is simply to make yourself more visible to drivers. The same goes for wearing reflective materials or a light when running at dusk, dawn or dark. All of this is equally true for trail runners if you get lost or hurt, because it makes you more visible for others to find and/or help you.
8. Keep the Music Down
I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, so believe me when I say that I love to “Pump Up The Jams” (pump it up) more than anyone!
But you still have to be able to hear your surroundings. If a car is honking at you to move, but you can’t hear it, you are going to get hurt. Even if it is completely their fault for hitting you, it’s also your fault if you don’t hear a car warn you with their horn to move.
Don’t use noise cancelling headphones. Try keeping the volume down enough to hear your surroundings or buy headphones that intentionally let in ambient (outside) noise.
Honestly though, the safest approach when actually running on the road is no headphones at all. Save it for the sidewalk or trails...or the dreaded treadmill.
How do you stay safe on the road? Happy running friends!
WHAT OTHERS HAVE TO SAY
Road Runners Club of America - RRCA General Running Safety Tips
Women's Running - 14 Safety Reminder for Runners
Runner's World - 11 Tips for Staying Safe on the Roads
Runner's World - The Best Safety Tips for Running on the Roads or Trails
Map My Run - Top 10 Running Safety Tips
Runner's Connect - 4 Essential Safety Tips for Female Runners
Active.com - 6 Running Safety Tips
ABOUT THE AVERAGE JOE RUNNER
Well, his real name is actually Dave...but "The Average Joe Runner" seemed like a catchy name for a blog. Born a sprinter, but converted to distance running in adulthood, Dave has run for more than 25 years. He is the father of four awesome kids and the husband to one amazingly talented, smart and fast-running wife.
The Average Joe Runner blog and website was born after Dave continued to get questions from friends and family alike for running tips and gear advice. However, this blog is also meant to hear from other Average Joe and Jane Runners out there. You can contribute to the blog by clicking Submit or Request. Follow The Average Joe Runner on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @TheAvgJoeRun. Read More.