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Rules: Which side of the road should I run on?

Coach Joe English

Coach Joe English

This story starts with a little argument that broke out on a run last weekend. It wasn’t a fight between my running partners and me – although that happens at times. This one broke out between me and a driver.

The more that you run, the more you’ll run into people that dislike the fact that you’re on their roads it seems.

Anyway, three of us were running along the side of a very windy, narrow road in Portland’s West Hills. This is a fairly typical road for this part of the world in that the bushes come right down to the edge of the road next to the white lines. There is obviously no sidewalk on the road at this point, so we were running single-file down the white line when a car came up upon us.

Let me just repeat that we were really running single-file on the white line – and I’m not making that up. Surprisingly, we weren’t spread out all over the road like we might normally be. We were actually behaving.

The driver came upon us and brought her car to a screeching halt. She rolled down her window and said quite tersely, “you’re running on the wrong side of the road!” To which I replied quite calmly, “no ma’am, we’re actually supposed to be on this side of the road.” And just like you’d expect, as she starting rolling up her window, her voice could be heard, now somewhat roiled, yelling “NO YOU’RE NOT!”

This is sort of typical behavior from drivers when you’re on THEIR roads, but what concerned me is whether we really were on the wrong side of the road. See, I had had this happen in a similar way last Summer when a driver yelled at me in just the same manner, but we were on the OTHER side of the road.

All jokes about runners crossing the road aside, I really wanted to settle this one: which side of the road are we supposed to be on anyway? And not only answer it, I wanted to be SURE that I knew the answer, so that I could quip back something like “Look it up” next time with some sense of confidence.

So I looked it up.

I actually spent a couple of hours looking it up, because I wanted to be so sure. Here’s what I found out: generally speaking, runners should be on the LEFT side of the road, facing traffic, when there is no sidewalk.

That’s what I thought too. (And that’s where we were.)

Just so that you don’t have any doubts about my sources, or my information, I’ll give you a little more ammo.

In Oregon, the applicable section of the traffic law is found in Oregon Revised Statutes 814.070. The statute sets out that it is a crime to be out of position on a roadway – called “Pedestrian with improper position” – and it says that if there is a sidewalk present, you need to be on it. If there is no sidewalk, then you need to be on the left side of the road and you should be as far from traffic as is practicable.

The Oregon Driver’s Handbook, which is what every driver would ostensibly read to get their driver’s license in Oregon, gives us a list of what to do as pedestrians. It includes some very helpful suggestions, such as wearing bright clothing and carrying a light and then goes on to list seven bullet points of pedestrian behavior that include: “If no sidewalk, walk or jog on the left shoulder facing on-coming traffic.” It also includes this helpful nugget for those of us in Oregon: “If you jog, use jogging paths where provided. After dark or in bad weather, jog in well lighted areas and wear plenty of reflective clothing.” Unfortunately, in the Winter that basically means we couldn’t run, so we’ll ignore that last part.

I wasn’t stopping with little ole’ Oregon though. I checked with the Federal government as well. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) puts out a bunch of helpful pamphlets. Although they didn’t have one specifically on running, they did have one targeted at safety for senior citizens, who apparently need tips of safe walking. In their riveting pamphlet “Stepping Out”, they tell seniors, “If you must walk on or near a road, remember to walk facing on-coming traffic so that both you and the driver can see each other.” I bet no one rolls down their windows to yell at senior citizens when they’re on the road.

I also stumbled on a study by the NHTSA’s National Center for Statistics and Analysis on pedestrian injuries and fatalities from being hit by cars. The data was kind of old, but back in 2001, a pedestrian was injured every 7 minutes in the United States by a car. And a pedestrian was killed every 108 minutes. That kind of sucks. However, the bright side of the data (if it can be called that) is that almost 40% of all pedestrians killed had some alcohol in their blood stream, almost 2/3rds were male, and about half of them were killed on Friday, Saturday or Sunday at night. Translation: drinking and walking around at night, so probably not runners.

So now you know. If there is a sidewalk, get up on it. If not, then you should be facing traffic so that both you and the drivers can see one another.

And if they stop to yell at you, just tell them to look it up.

Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon, USA
Managing Editor, Running Advice and News
www.running-advice.com

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6 responses so far, want to say something?

  1. 1. Rules: Safe running with a baby jogger « Running Wild with Coach Joe May 14th, 2007 at 9:15 am

    […] Rules: Safe running with a baby jogger 14May07 In an earlier post, I wrote about the proper side of the road to run on: when there are no shoulders or side-walks, you are supposed to be on the left side of the road (facing traffic). You can read the whole discussion of these traffic rules here. […]

  2. 2. SportsRumblings August 31st, 2007 at 4:49 pm

    Wow, thanks for the research. I just googled this after a run with a similar incident. Would the same apply for cycling?

  3. 3. coachjoeenglish August 31st, 2007 at 4:57 pm

    In answer to the above question, I also researched the answer for bikes.

    In all cases, bikes should travel with the flow of traffic, never against it. Treat your bike like any wheeled vehicle and move with the traffic.

    Thanks for the question and for reading.

    Coach Joe

  4. 4. Training: Staying safe in the winter « Running Wild with Coach Joe November 8th, 2007 at 7:29 am

    […] Step 6: pay attention to your surroundings – you may need to make other changes to your behavior depending on your location, such as running with a buddy, leaving your earphones at home, or changing your routes. The bottom-line is that you need to take responsibility for staying safe from both dangers seen and unseen around you at night. And make sure that you’re running on the correct side of the road. […]

  5. 5. Maggie August 30th, 2009 at 2:42 am

    I generally run on the left side of the road, but sometimes that just isn't possible due to overgrowth. It's nice of the government to make laws, but if they aren't going to do their part and clip the overhanging bushes, ain't my fault if I'm on the wrong side!

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