Posted by: Joe English | March 5, 2007

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
http://www.running-advice.com

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Responses

  1. [...] 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. [...]

    • Im from America where we do stuff on the right side of the road, so everything happens on the right. You either run, bike, jog, walk or drive on the right every time and thats it.

      • LOL! last time I checked, Oregon was also in America. Or maybe you were being sarcastic? One hopes so.

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

  3. 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

    • Dear Joe,
      First, I am runner supporter. Here is my back ground. I am 59 and no longer run as a result of arthritis, I do walk, Nordic Track and Bicycle, most recently riding in RAGBRAI. I began jogging in 1962, before it was as popular as today. My daughter is a runner, was captain of her high school cross county team and held the record for the 2 mile high school track event for 6 years in Mentor, Ohio. I have an employee who ran cross country at Wright State University under the coaching of Bob Schul, 1964 Olympic Champion in the 5000 meter. We sponsor her in local runs. I sponsor several Charity Jogs.

      Again, I am a running supporter. I am also a strong proponent of running safety. First a runner is a pedestrian, not a bicycle or motor vehicle. They operate under different rules. On the road, in general, the pedestrian must yield to the motor vehicle or bicycle.

      The bicycle is treated as a motor vehicle and in most cases with the rights of a motor vehicle. That being said, when cycling, I give motor vehicles the “Weight of Way”.

      I see a degradation in runners’ behavior. I see more and more joggers running on narrow winding roads with the attitude that the driver must yield. Again, this is wrong. I am concerned that runners operating under the wrong assumption will be injured or killed because of their misinformed behavior.

      I have had several near misses on the narrow roads leading to my home where a runner facing me is on or to their right of the white side line marking the outside edge of the lane, and there is an oncoming vehicle and I have no place to go. I have stopped, properly in the center of my lane and received a variety of comments from the runners. My response to them is pragmatic. I explain that if given the choice to stay in my lane or cross left of center into an oncoming vehicle, I am going to stay in my lane, period. I tell them hopefully I can stop in time as I did now, before hitting the runner. If not, I will need to file claim with their family for the damages their body does to my car, and I prefer not to do this. That often leads to a few more comments from the runner.

      I am suppling the full text of the two sections of the code that describe the pedestrian. If you disagree after reading the entire section of the Code, talk a local law enforcement officer for clarification.

      814.040 Failure to yield to vehicle; penalty. (1) A pedestrian commits the offense of pedestrian failure to yield to a vehicle if the pedestrian does any of the following:
      (a) Suddenly leaves a curb or other place of safety and moves into the path of a vehicle that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard.
      (b) Fails to yield the right of way to a vehicle upon a roadway when the pedestrian is crossing the roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection.
      (c) Except as otherwise provided under the vehicle code, fails to yield the right of way to all vehicles upon the roadway.
      (2) The offense described in this section, pedestrian failure to yield to a vehicle, is a Class D traffic infraction. [1983 c.338
      §555; 1995 c.383 §84]

      814.070 Improper position upon or improperly proceeding along highway; penalty. (1) A pedestrian commits the offense of pedestrian with improper position upon or improperly proceeding along a highway if the pedestrian does any of the following:
      (a) Takes a position upon or proceeds along and upon the roadway where there is an adjacent usable sidewalk or shoulder.
      (b) Does not take a position upon or proceed along and upon the shoulder, as far as practicable from the roadway edge, on a highway that has an adjacent shoulder area on one or both sides.
      (c) Except in the case of the divided highway, does not take a position upon or proceed along and upon the left shoulder and as far as practicable from the roadway edge on a two-way highway that has no sidewalk and that does have an adjacent shoulder area. This paragraph does not apply to:
      (A) A hitchhiker who takes a position upon or proceeds along and upon the right shoulder so long as the hitchhiker
      does so facing the vehicles using the adjacent lane of the roadway; or
      (B) A member of a group that has adopted that section of highway under the provisions of ORS 366.158 and who is
      obeying the rules of the Department of Transportation for picking up litter on either side of the roadway.
      (d) Does not take a position upon or proceed along and upon the right highway shoulder, as far as practicable from the roadway edge, on a divided highway that has no sidewalk and does have a shoulder area. This paragraph does not apply to a member of a group that has adopted that section of highway under the provisions of ORS 366.158 and who is obeying the rules of the Department of Transportation for picking up litter on either side of the roadway.
      (e) Fails to take a position upon or proceed along and upon a highway that has neither sidewalk nor shoulder available, as near as practicable to an outside edge of the roadway, and, if the roadway is a two-way roadway, only on the left side of it.

      In summary unless otherwise specified, the pedestrian must yield to the vehicle. If there is a shoulder on the side in the direction of traffic and not one facing traffic the pedestrian is to use the shoulder and move with traffic.

      In your example, only if there is no shoulder on either side, were you operating properly, if there was a shoulder on the other side, you should have crossed the street.

      Please encourage safe running through knowledge of the rules for pedestrians.

      To paraphrase Spock, Run Long, Safely (With the Knowledge of the Rules of the Road) and Prosper.

      Bill Robertson

  4. [...] 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. Darnit, as a new cyclist I’m getting used to riding the road when necessary, and the only complaint I have is you walkers, and joggers, going against the flow of traffic. I understand it seems safer, but was hoping you guys were in the wrong, frack!

  6. I understand the argument for running with or against traffic, but do the statistics back up the assumptions. Its clear the status quo, rule of thumb, and Oregon law is to run facing on-coming traffic, but are more runners hit running with traffic or against? I’m trying to find these statistics.

  7. I question the wisdom of the people who wrote these laws. I am willing to bet that there are more injuries and deaths from runners running facing traffic versus going with traffic. It is a false assumption that you can react to avoid a vehicle coming at you from the front versus the rear… the closing speed is just too fast and time too short. Therefore, minimizing situations where drivers either don’t look to see you (right turns) or don’t expect to see you (as confirmed by driver complaints), or by minimizing the closing speed (potentially giving the driver more time to react; running at 10 mph means a difference of 20 mph between the two closing speeds), seems to be the safer alternative , and my safety trumps the law in my personal decision. A runner is NOT SIGNIFICANTLY DIFFERENT FROM A BICYCLE from the perspective of a driver. Bicycles are sometimes even slower.

    Perhaps there needs to be a movement to change the laws followed by public education in order to save lives. Rules should be consistent for all moving traffic, including runners, to maximize safety safety.

    • wow who on earth mad this law are they stupid what if a biker made a mistake and WAM!! ur hit .

      – 11 year old josh

  8. [...] like me are gettin’ hit all the time. In fact, according to NHSTA data (found on some guy’s blog article) pedestrians (runners and drunkards) are killed every 108 minutes. That number is pretty alarming. [...]

  9. [...] like me are gettin’ hit all the time. In fact, according to NHSTA data (found on some guy’s blog article) pedestrians (runners and drunkards) are killed every 108 minutes. That number is pretty alarming. [...]

  10. I am for everyone getting exercise by cycling or running. If I am cycling towards a runner (them facing me), I would hope they would move over to the grass a bit as I pass. They can go “off-road” a bit easier than I can with my skinny tires. Otherwise I would need to move towards traffic, while they would be safer by moving away.

    Let’s share and be safe.

  11. Is it such a bad idea to run on the right side of the street? I really don’t like the eye contact and stare down that drivers give you when your running against them. Is it okay that I run on the right side to avoid this or should I just suck it up and run on the left side?

    • No need to make eye contact, but I usually do and wouldn’t you rather see what’s coming towards you? Plus, it only helps them to know you aren’t going to all of a sudden turn or do anything they won’t expect (not saying you would) but keep the driver in mind. Just because we are pedestrians, doesn’t mean we should turn a blind eye..ahem, no pun intended.

  12. It seems to me that these laws written to apply to pedestrians make much less sense when applied to runners. In my neighborhood the sidewalks may be usable for walking, at least in daylight, but running on them is an invitation to disaster with tree roots, breaks, curbs and the like that make falling or turning an ankle almost certain, especially at night. Running on the shoulder as far from traffic as possible? The side slope will eventually do you in. I usually run on the left side of the roadway watching carefully for traffic, and cross to the right side of the road (after checking for traffic coming from behind of course) when I see a car approaching from the front on a road with no shoulder. This diagonal crossing is often jaywalking, but seems to me to be safer than the alternative.

  13. I’ve always run/walked on the left side, when there is no path or sidewalk and it drives me batty when i see others on the wrong side. Always, when traffic is coming and i am on the left side, and ding-dongs on the wrong side end up slowing down the traffic. Besides, wouldn’t they rather see what’s coming towards them in the first place? Geez…

    • HIGHWAY RULE OF THE ROAD #179 MUST WALK OR RUN ON THE LEFT SIDE FACING TRAFFIC. FINE $35

  14. Running against traffic is simply dangerous and the laws need to be updated. People come to the park and get on a bike path and assume street rules apply. They don’t. You keep RIGHT on bike path. Not only that but I have never witnessed a runner on the right side yield to cyclist. ESPECIALLY two and three people yapping away NOT single file.

  15. Guys, use common sense. If you run on the right side towards traffic, at 10 miles an hour, and a motorist is coming towards you at 30 mph, the relative velocity is 40mph. There is less reaction time and more chance of fatality.

    If you run along with traffic, for the same speeds, the relative velocity is halved ( 20mph). There is far more reaction time for the motorist and less chance of fatality.

    It is not the runner that moves out of the way in narrow lanes, it’s the motorist that has to do it. It’s the runners responsibility to give more reaction time for the motorist.

    Laws for pedestrians who walk cannot be applied to runners.

    • I think this logic shows how that this really doesn’t always make a difference. My average jogging pace is 6 mi/hr. The streets where I live have speed limits range form 25-45 but actual speed of the vehicles is 40-60 mph, and the impact of a car hitting me at net speed 55mph going with traffic isn’t going to be much different than net speed 65mph going against traffic – that’s serious trouble either way. Facing the opposite way won’t change the outcome of a car that swerves at the last moment into me, but it will make me more aware of a steady driver vs unsteady driver and if driver intends to make a turn or go into shoulder to pass a left-turning vehicle in front of him. I’d rather know what the cars are doing than hear a horn behind me and not know what the driver wants me to do.

  16. [...] you’re running, if there is no sidewalk, and you must run in the road, you’re supposed to be facing traffic.  That is, running into traffic, running toward the cars that are coming toward you.  Cars are [...]

  17. IN CANADA RULE OF THE ROAD IS THE LEFT SIDE. #179 $35 FINE IF CAUGHT ON THE RIGHT. NEVER ENFORCED UNLESS SOMEONE IS HIT.

  18. I had the exact same thing happen to me today on ne alameda, perhaps the widest street in all of Portland. the woman even went so far as to call me an idiot when I told her that I was supposed to be running against traffic. I wasn’t on the sidewalk, just because there were so many people out and about on a sunny Sunday morning…but she was literally the only driver I could see in either direction. so I was wondering…is is technically illegal to run in the road if there is a sidewalk? if it’s obstructed or otherwise in use, wouldn’t it be safer (both for the runner and for walkers/kids on the sidewalk) to run in the road, especially on a wide street with relatively few drivers? I’d just like to know, that woman really spoiled an otherwise pleasant 13 miler.

  19. [...] From a Coach’s Perspective [...]

  20. [...] like me are getting hit all the time. In fact, according to NHSTA data (found on this guy’s blog article) pedestrians (runners and drunkards) are killed every 108 minutes. That number is pretty alarming. [...]

  21. dear Bill Robertson,
    none of all that matters when you get sued for hitting a pedestrian. you’re gonna lose…trust me, been there done that.

  22. [...] like me are getting hit all the time. In fact, according to NHSTA data (found on this guy’s blog article) pedestrians (runners and drunkards) are killed every 108 minutes. That number is pretty alarming. [...]

  23. Wow, after posting with certainty that runners have absolute Right of Way, I decided to look up my state (NC) law to prove it.

    Bad News………….Drivers have the Right of Way except in obvious crosswalks.

    Here it is from NC Dept. of Transportation:

    (d) Where sidewalks are provided, it shall be unlawful for any pedestrian to walk along and
    upon an adjacent roadway. Where sidewalks are not provided, any pedestrian walking
    along and upon a highway shall, when practicable, walk only on the extreme left of the
    roadway or its shoulder facing traffic which may approach from the opposite direction. Such
    pedestrian shall yield the right-of-way to approaching traffic.

    I guess I’ll have to start stepping out of the way.

  24. Thank you so much for this post. I am new to outdoor running and happen to live in the portland or area. This was uber helpful and gave me references to check for myself :)

  25. here is the NYS law:
    S 1156. Pedestrians on roadways. (a) Where sidewalks are provided and
    they may be used with safety it shall be unlawful for any pedestrian to
    walk along and upon an adjacent roadway.
    (b) Where sidewalks are not provided any pedestrian walking along and
    upon a highway shall when practicable walk only on the left side of the
    roadway or its shoulder facing traffic which may approach from the
    opposite direction. Upon the approach of any vehicle from the opposite
    direction, such pedestrian shall move as far to the left as is
    practicable.

    found here: http://ypdcrime.com/vt/article27.htm#t1156


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