Running and road rage

I enjoy reading The New York Times, dead tree edition. Maybe it’s the tactile sensation of holding the paper. (And making just enough noise by twisting the pages to irritate my wife as she is watching the TV news.) Maybe it’s the triple ration of single malt whisky that I typically down while reading the journal. I don’t know. But the experience overall tends to be relaxing.

And then I read yesterday about “road runner rage.” Say what? I found the article on the last page of the Thursday Styles section, following articles about how to be a more critical shopper in troubled times and the fact that doctors are now discounting Botox treatments and other “facial and body operations.” I guess we are in a recession. I digress.

The article about road runner rage has considerably more fluff than substance. But I was struck by one of the comments by Bonnie Sesolak, development director with the National Motorists Association, described by The Times as “a drivers’ rights group” based in Madison, Wis. Let’s see. A drivers’ rights group. OK. Here’s from the article:

“Runners are sometimes really hard to see,” she [Sesolak] said, “especially if they are not wearing bright clothing.”

She also noted that it is often the driver who gets the bad rap when bodily harm is incurred, even if the runner is the one who was not fully attentive because of using headphones or some other distraction. “When an accident happens, it is usually the driver who is seen at fault,” she said. Runners “have to realize that personal safety is their own responsibility,” she said.

Actually, I agree with her. In the nearly 30 years I’ve been running — mostly on the road and generally in the dark — I’ve pretty much figured that in any direct confrontation the car was most likely going to win on points, if not via a knockout. Too bad The Times didn’t offer any solid suggestions for those of us forced to coexist each day with cars, buses, vans and garbage trucks. So here is what the writer of the article, Christopher Percy Collier, could have included to add some substance.

  • Regardless of what time of day you are running, you are vulnerable to cars (any vehicle for that matter) and animals. I never run with earphones, listening to music or news. It’s dangerous. And besides, it’s the only time of the day when I don’t have to listen to anything or anyone, except to myself.
  • The drivers’ rights advocate is correct: wear bright clothing. I wear a reflective vest — even on the days when I know I’ll finish in the daylight.
  • If at all possible, I try to look into the eyes of the driver as he/she approaches. If someone is going to have to move at the last second, it better be me. And I’m trying to tell if the driver sees me. I see the car coming just fine, thank you.
  • And there is no more frightening sight in the world than seeing a car barreling directly at you with the driver talking or texting on a cellphone.
  • Since I run mostly in the dark and generally can’t see the driver because of the glare of the headlights, I slow down to see if the car will veer even slightly to the center of the road. At 5 a.m. some do; many don’t. That failure to yield even an inch of concrete is amazing to me. And as Bob Dyer said in his Akron Beacon Journal column this morning (writing about bike riding on city streets where the same issues exist) it’s OK — even legal — for drivers in Ohio to cross the double yellow line to pass “a bike or other slow-moving vehicle.” I assume that means slow-moving humans as well.
  • No matter how egregious the driver’s transgression, I never give the one-finger salute. C’mon folks. Think about it. Generally runners are out on the road with nothing other than the clothes we are wearing. Who knows what the idiot in the car has?

Here’s from the article again:

Other runners view the cause for many of these clashes as a result of a potentially flawed system — or perhaps a simple a lack of awareness. “Runners are encouraged to run on the left side of the road, against traffic,” said Sue Davies, a marathoner who has logged hundreds of miles in Connecticut as a member of Stony Corners Running Team, “but about 90 percent of the time drivers taking a right turn don’t bother to look right. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had drivers almost plow people down in our running group.”

Drivers honk their horns. Runners yell back. Obscene hand gestures occasionally go up. Usually, it ends there. But there are times when these seemingly minor altercations escalate.

Oh, my. As in politics and government, can’t we strive for a return to civility here?

And for those of us who lace ’em up every morning and hit the concrete, I quote Sergeant Phil Esterhaus from “Hill Street Blues”:

“Hey, let’s be careful out there.”

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3 responses to “Running and road rage

  1. Your point about headphones is spot on. I’m a cyclist, and I use rails-to-trails to avoid all the cars. Because the path is narrow, I do the courtesy of warning runners that I’m approaching from behind. They seldom hear me b/c of the iPods.

    I tried civility. Really. “I’m passing on your left, sir.” Maybe I need to crank up my voice volume and make loud revving sounds, you know, like a hemi.

  2. I agree. It’s dangerous to run with earphones — even on the Towpath and similar places. I also don’t quite understand why people can’t be “disconnected” for a few minutes. Even Rocky didn’t need an iPod (or equivalent at the time) when he was training for his historic title bout.

  3. I do not have a desire to listen to music while biking on the trail near my house. Much of it is wooded and pristine, and the sounds of nature are enough for me. Never really got the headphone thing, but both my daughters won’t go without their iPods. Maybe it’s generational – the under-40 group seems to have a need to be constantly stimulated. Or maybe I’m just old and out of it.

    Never had a problem with runners on our trail, although they usually are solitary. I have a problem with groups of walkers who go three or four astride and make it difficult to pass. The trail rules say you should only go two astride, but I don’t want to interrupt my ride to make a citizen’s arrest!

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