Thursday, January 21, 2010

A few words about runner safety

At a race earlier this month, I bumped into a running friend who told me one of his New Year's resolutions was to work to improve runner safety. The following week, he sent me an e-mail addressing a specific concern:

"For many years, I have dreaded some of the streets that I consider dangerous to runners due primarily to the right on red light. I see runners running on busy intersections taking a green light as the only thing they watch and making no provisions to cars looking in the opposite direction from them, looking for an opening to take the right. Needless to say, it is still the responsibility of the driver to assure safety for all when quickly turning on a red, but should any runner bet their health, and possibly their life, on the whims of a driver in this situation?"
As a Runner's World subscriber, my thoughts of course drifted to Liz Robbins' terrific article about runner safety in the January 2010 issue, "Collision Course." In it, she also mentioned how such situations at intersections can be dangerous -- or deadly.
"The driver begins to turn right on red. As he accelerates, he looks to his left for oncoming cars -- but not to his right. The runner must anticipate that the driver is not looking out for him, and move to the sidewalk ASAP."
On Facebook, I asked how many runners had encountered this particular problem out on the roads. Among the responses:
  • "Has happened to me a few times. Now if there is a car getting ready to turn right, I will make sure that they acknowledge me to go in front of them. If not, then I will make sure and go behind them."
  • "Was hit last year by large SUV at stop light. He was pulling out to the right at the red light and was looking left. I came from his right and bounced off the hood."
  • "This has happened to me so many times. I know to wave my arms so the driver sees me and acknowledges that I'm going to cross."
  • "Most drivers making a right turn never look right. Almost got hit by a school bus once who didn't look."
  • "I was hit by a policeman as he was pulling out of a convenience store. He stopped way short of the sidewalk, so I thought he had seen me. As I passed in front of the car, I saw he was looking back to his left at traffic and then started to pull out. He never looked up until I jumped to try to clear his bumper/hood and he caught my back foot and spun me around. I am VERY antsy now at all intersections; doing the eye contact/arm-wave dance, and also waiting for an acknowledgment from the driver."
So then I expanded the discussion by asking runners which streets and intersections they feel are the most dangerous. Nominations included Providence Road/Queens Road, Carmel Road/Johnston Road, Johnston Road/Ballantyne Commons, Seventh Street/Pecan Avenue, Randolph Road/Laurel Avenue, Morehead Street/Kenilworth Avenue, East Boulevard, Park Road, Rea Road, Central Avenue, and any of the entrances to SouthPark Mall.

Of course, one woman pointed out that the first line of defense is leaving that iPod at home if you're running the roads. And a couple guys noted that careless drivers can be avoided altogether by running on a greenway or trail.

What do you think? How do you keep safe on our roads? Which ones do you avoid? Do you run with music? Do you try to run only on paths away from traffic?


Anonymous said...

Same rules apply when I run or ride my motorcycle. People in cars are in their own world and you have to assume they dont see you (even if you make eye contact with them). I always have a plan when entering an intersection in case someone does something stupid.

Chad R. said...

I'd also recommend NOT wearing dark clothing while running in the early morning or late evening hours unless you also have on reflective gear and/or a flashing light. All too often I observe runners in the twilight hours who are barely visible because of their black or dark blue running outfits. I trust no one in a car, and neither should you.

Anonymous said...

I run on the greenway's as much as possible. Better scenery and a lot safer

Allen said...

For this reason (and many others), I avoid the roads as much as possible. I ran 16+ miles, mostly on trails and subdivision roads, on Sunday, and nearly got hit at about mile 16.1 by a knucklehead turning right on red into Birkdale Village. We as runners must be vigilant at all times. 1 wrong move and those thousands of training miles are wasted and those dreams of qualifying for Boston are dashed!

Anonymous said...

I drive on many of the roads listed as the most dangerous intersections. I am surprised by how many runners continue to wear IPods and other devices that block out any vehicle horns or street traffic. In addition to looking for safety, you should also be listening to warning sounds as well. IPods have their place but not while ruunning.

Anonymous said...

I'm a new fan of the headlamp for morning/evening runs. At first its easy to think it looks too goofy to wear but its all about function over fashion and the headlamp is very effective. Your head is constantly moving and drawing attention and its at a higher elevation than a lot of thick bushes and shrubs and other cars that could block your reflective clothing. Plus it helps you spot broken sidewalk/pavement/branches or other trip hazards.

Anonymous said...

I passed a woman running on the shoulder of I-85 North near City Boulevard at 7:30 this morning. Yes, I wrote I-85 and yes she was dressed for a run not running from a breakdown! Sometimes you just need to have a little sense.

Anonymous said...

On weekends, I often run in the Ballantyne business park area. I’ve found a nice 5 mile loop that I do three times. There are rarely any cars, three water fountains (nice to have a water supply in the summer), and some nice small trails off the path.

It appears as though they are building a connection to the McMullen Creek Greenway as well.

Matt W said...

I always assume the driver does not see me. When approaching an intersection or even an adjacent side road I look ahead for cars coming from every direction. This is easier to do in the neighborhoods where I run and there are not blind corners due to buildings. When running during early morning hours the traffic is not a huge issue, but I do have to watch out for the guy delivering newspapers who often zig-zags across the road for different driveway drops and often barely slows down at stop signs, probably assuming he can go since there is no other traffic.

One thing I disagree with is the assumption that an iPod makes you oblivious to your surroundings. I've yet to see an mp3 player that does not have a volume control. It is possible to use this control so that you can hear both the music/audiobook/podcast and approaching cars. And even noise canceling headphones would not block a car horn. I usually listen to my iPod when running and feel I am able to hear my surroundings well enough to be safe.

Anonymous said...

There was a young lady who was killed near Providence and Queens a couple of years ago while running. She was wearing an ipod.

She waited for a truck to go past her, thinking it was just a truck she darted to get across the street after the truck went by only to get hit by the trailer the truck was pulling. I'd think had she not been wearing an ipod, she would have heard the trailer.

Dogs are another reason to not wear one. Little ones can be out ran and will probably just startle you with your ipdod on. With bid mean dogs, you have to stop. With an ipdod you have a good chance of not knowing you are being chased until you get bit.

All this being said, runners should have some kind of ID/contact information on their person as well.

Matt W said...

But if have my ipod I have something immediately handy to throw at said big mean dog.

And come on, "she would have heard the trailer"? More than likely it was because she was looking at the iPod and not at where she was going. Yes, still an argument against an iPod, but more of an argument for being safe and smart.

ScottZ said...

People generally don't throw $200 pieces of electronics at dogs. Plus it would likely result in a broken ipod and a pissed off dog.

I remember the shows why you should carry ID as well.

I'm sorry, but the sound of a truck coming down the road is a lot different than the souce of truck pulling one of those big landscaping trailers. The ipod without a doubt played a role in her being well as it being night.

when you are running outide, you rely on two senses, sight and sound to be aware of what's around you. With an ipod, you are relying on one. Which is smarter?

Kate said...

The dangers of right-turn-on-red are why I usually cross roads away from the intersections. I may be jay walking, but I feel safer and more visible to oncoming cars.

Melissa said...

The road just outside my neighborhood has a high school (read: the most inexperienced drivers ever) and no shoulder. I try to avoid running during school hours for this reason. I also make a point to wave and smile at passing cars - hoping that if they see me being polite, they will be nice to the next runner they see. I mouth "thank you" to the ones that make an effort to give me extra room. I've seen a couple of people "bitching" at me as they drove by, and it's hurtful but I try to be polite anyway. I would really prefer to run on sidewalks but in Marvin, where I live (Union County),there are none. At times I will run or cycle to a trail but I just can't justify wasting gas money to drive somewhere to run when my legs will take me just fine. How can we get more sidewalks everywhere? That would help drivers and runners. Bike lanes too - I'm terrified to ride my bike anywhere!

Anonymous said...

I view it kind of like defensive driving. You just have to always be looking around at what's going on around you and be ready for pretty much anything. I usually wont cross an intersection until i've made eye contact with all drivers, or i just run behind their car (where possible)

Matt W said...

As I said earlier, I use an iPod and adjust the volume so I can hear it and cars. I run in low traffic neighborhoods and greenways and feel I am aware and safe at all times. I even heard and in turn saw a rabbit beside the greenway path the other night while listening to The Talking Heads.

I was kidding about throwing the iPod at the dog. Seriously, there is no need to get upset. While it is fun in itself, arguing about iPod use while running is not going to change anybody's mind.

Anonymous said...

Matt W...have you entered any races lately? Almost all of them ban any Ipods or other ear covering music device. They must know something. Anyway...anytime I see a person wearing an IPod, I take extra caution because I assume, either correctly, or incorrectly, that they cannot hear me because of the volume of their music in their ear. Part of the running experience is listening to ALL the sounds outside that you hear while running.

Matt W said...

I would argue that a race is the safest time to use an iPod, what with road closures and traffic being forced to yield to runners. But to answer your question, I have done several races in the past year and I have no problem not using my iPod (although I actually do carry it, just without headphones. Ever heard of Nike+?). Races are a great time to chat with and encourage other runners. And yes, on some training runs I run without the headphones so I can enjoy the sounds of the world.

Anonymous, you shouldn't say you are more cautious when you see someone with an iPod. That only encourages me. I'll be more than happy to accept extra caution even if it is because the driver thinks I'm an idiot for using an iPod. :)