Monday, January 26, 2009

Running on the right side of the road?

For my entire running life (which hasn't been all that long), I've made a point to run on the left side of the road, the side facing traffic. The rules tell us that that's the side that pedestrians use and the side with traffic is for vehicles including bicycles. They said that's because the drivers can see you and you can see them.

I've made a consistent effort to adhere to that rule even when the roads weren't as well paved on that side or the shoulder was smaller. In addition to following the rules, I tried to keep my body in sync by balancing the drop-off on the side of the road. If I were running on both sides (left side on the way out and left side on the way back), then one side of my body wouldn't be especially prone to injury.

However, I've discovered that the left side has become the more precarious side of late and I'm starting to think about switching sides permanently. Here's why:
  1. When you're on the left side of the road, cars that turn right are quite likely to hit you. They look left to ensure that no one's coming, but they NEVER look right. DC Spinster was hit by a car for this exact reason. I've lost count how many times I've almost been hit because drivers don't look both ways.
  2. However, when you're on the right side of the road, drivers are always looking your way. As they're turning right, they look left and that's where you're coming from. I always make a point to way to them to both tell them that I'm going in front of them and to thank them for watching out for me (which they wouldn't otherwise do, I'm sure).
  3. When I go up hills, cars also coming up the hills can see me on the right. They don't pop over the hill and have to dart into the middle of the road like they do when I run on the left.
  4. Just like it is in a car, right turns are easier to make while running. You don't have to re-cross traffic if you're running in a loop and you're not obstructing traffic while they wait for you to cross (if they, in fact, do wait for you).
My father's theory is probably the soundest: the objective is not the side of the road but not to be hit by a car. If the right side is the more visible side, then that might be the best side to use. If not, then take the left.

I don't like the idea of not seeing traffic as it comes toward me when running on the right, but it may be a small price to pay for more safety in the rest of my workout.

What are your thoughts? Do you always stay on the left? Do you switch? Do you go back and forth?

Note: this is a US-centric post, so just flip the right and left side for those of you across the pond.


Mel-2nd Chances said...

Great post...and i've often wondered the same. I always stick on the left too... as it's become the norm. Your points make a lot of sense. The few times that I've run on the right (on my short little street as i make my way home) has been a nice change, but it would take some getting used to not seeing the cars, or bus coming up behind me.

Marlene said...

I always run on the left, but have similar reservations (and have had several close calls) from the situations you describe. Especially the hills! I'm just so nervous about cars coming up behind me.

Petraruns said...

I've flipped sides and yes I tend to go on our right - so against traffic going my way - but when I'm going uphill or round bends where I KNOW cars will be speeding round never anticipating that anyone might be round that bend I switch sides. I go with your father's point of view - I try to be wherever I'm most likely to be seen...

And it's good to find some trails where you can run without the camber affecting one side of your body...

ShirleyPerly said...

Interesting thoughts. I rarely run on a road that has no sidewalk (or fairly wide paved shoulder in lieu of a sidewalk) so I really don't know which is best but safest sounds good to me. Either way I pretend I'm invisible. That said, I don't cross in front of a car that is turning unless they've clearly waved me on to do so. To see if someone is coming up behind me, I wear a rearview mirror on my sunglasses (same one as for cycling).

Susan said...

Honestly, I ALWAYS run into oncoming traffic.

Runner Leana said...

I run on the left side if it makes sense, but when it comes to hills or corners I'll flip. I don't like being on the left side if it is inside the corner. I figure I'm a bit safer and more visible on the outside!