Should You Run With Or Against Traffic?

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If you run on the road, you’ve most likely thought whether to you run with or against traffic? Does it matter? Is there an advantage to one or the other?

First, yes, it does matter! And second, you might be surprised to learn that there are laws around this!

So if you’ve been just doing what feels comfortable, it’s a good idea to learn more to stay safe (and maybe avoid accidentally breaking the law).

Here’s what you need to know about which side of the road to run on – plus, we’ve got some valuable safety tips for doing it correctly (for yourself and motorists!).

Should You Run With or Against Traffic?

The simple answer is: AGAINST traffic. Whenever possible, you should be running in the opposite direction to cars; in other words, you should be running head-on to how they’re driving.

For many runners, this seems counterintuitive. It’s generally assumed (wrongly) that if you get hit from behind, you’re likely to suffer less catastrophic injuries, but in reality, being unable to see what’s coming behind you is extremely dangerous.

When running against traffic, you can see the vehicles coming towards you. While you won’t be focusing entirely on them, you’ll be aware enough of them to know if you need to take evasive action. When they’re behind you, you’ll never know.

Even if you’re wearing reflective gear and carrying a light, you can never assume that motorists will see you—or that they’re fully awake, sober, and paying attention to what’s around them.

But when they’re ahead of you, you have the extra protective layer of your awareness, which can be the difference between life and death. It might sound over-the-top, but trust us—you can NEVER be too careful on the road.

Plus, the United States Department of Transportation states that walkers should walk against traffic, and the same applies to runners. While there’s no federal law against doing the opposite, this is a state law in many places.

When Should You Consider Running With Traffic?

Although this is law in some places and it’s far safer, there will be occasions when you may have to run WITH traffic instead of against it. While we don’t advise doing so just because here are some times you might need to make the switch.

Blind Curves and Hills

If you’re heading up a hill and can’t see traffic coming over the top, running with the traffic for that short stretch is safer. This is also true for blind curves, where you can’t see what’s coming towards you, and they can’t see you.

Keep in mind that the drivers behind you still have a chance of seeing you, but those coming over the hill might see you at the last minute. As long as you’re wearing something reflective, you should be safe for a short stretch running with traffic.

The Road Is Narrow, and There Is No Shoulder to Run On

When there’s limited space, especially on the shoulder, running with the traffic is safer. This will ensure that drivers can see you and anticipate your movements because they’re driving the same road as you’re running.

Tips for Running Safely Against Traffic

If you’re used to running with traffic instead of against it, you might be apprehensive about switching to the other side. Here are some tips for doing it as safely as possible.

Wear Bright Clothing

You might not be a fan of bright clothing, but running against traffic is more of a safety measure than a fashion one.

If you’re wearing dark clothing, the chances are strong that you’ll blend into the background more easily, especially if you’ve got a backdrop of trees or buildings.

Choosing to wear something bright and eye-catching makes it much more likely that drivers will see you running, so they can evade you if necessary.

We highly recommend going more colorful than you think you need to. Wearing a brightly-colored hat isn’t always enough—we suggest a shirt and bright shorts or tights so you really stand out.

Use Reflective Gear

As well as being colorful, you should be wearing reflective gear, especially if you’re running in low-light conditions.

This will help drivers to spot you from afar as the beams of car lights reflect off your reflective gear. You can buy all manner of reflective gear, from vests to shoelaces.

Make Yourself Visible at Night

Reflective gear helps a lot, but using a running light can make a big difference if you’re running at night. This will give motorists a better chance of spotting you even if their lights aren’t directly on you, and the bobbing motion of the light will indicate that someone is up ahead.

You don’t have to physically carry a flashlight, which could be awkward to run with. A headlamp is a great idea, or a clip-on light for a belt or waistband.

Run on the Left Side

In the US, running against traffic means running on the left-hand side of the road. Be aware that this might be different in other countries—just make sure you’re running in the opposite direction as the cars coming down the road closest to you.

If you are on vacation and aren’t sure what the standard is in the country you’re visiting, research before you arrive and head out for a run.

Never Assume That a Driver Can See You

Even if you’re running against traffic and the drivers are looking right in your direction, rather err on the side of caution and DON’T assume that the drivers can always see you.

Drivers deal with many distractions on the road and, honestly, inside their car. When looking directly at them, you have some control over what happens if they swerve or drift towards you.

If You Can, Avoid Running on Busy Roads

One of the easiest ways to avoid potential issues with traffic is to run on quieter roads. If possible, choose less busy roads for your runs, but make sure you’re still running against traffic even if there isn’t much of it!

Alternatively, choose something else, like running on a track, trail running, running through a park, or invest in a treadmill.

Watch for Turning Vehicles

Don’t forget that it’s not only the vehicles coming towards you that you need to keep an eye on. Also, watch for vehicles that may be turning and may not see you.

You need to have eyes on any vehicles that might be moving towards your space. You should be looking ahead of you as you run—not at the ground—so take the opportunity to observe where and how vehicles are turning in and out.

Cross the Street At Crosswalks

If you need to cross the street while you’re running, do your best to do so at crosswalks, not just anywhere. This will give drivers a bit more awareness of your presence, rather than simply running across the road at any point where drivers may get a fright.

It also means that if something does happen, the driver is more likely to be held responsible as you’re crossing at the right place.

Be Cautious Around Parked Vehicles

Just because a car is parked, it doesn’t mean it’s not a hazard! If you’re approaching a parked vehicle, be cautious—there’s a chance of them pulling out into the street without checking, or opening a car door unexpectedly, which could be a danger to you.

Give the parked vehicle some space if possible so opening doors can’t hurt you. But if there’s very little space, it’s at least a good idea to slow down as you approach it and make sure there’s nobody in the car before you run past.

That doesn’t mean you need to be paranoid about parked vehicles, but pay a little attention to avoid any potential issues.

Make Eye Contact With Drivers

Make eye contact with drivers as you cross an interaction or approach them, especially if they’re sitting in a stationary vehicle, parked, or at a traffic light.

If a driver is looking to make a turn, they may be more focused on traffic than a runner coming near them. This is especially true if they are looking the opposite way from where you are coming from. For example, if a driver is looking to turn right, they probably are checking traffic to their left – and there’s a good chance they won’t even glance to their right if you are coming from that direction.

Making eye contact ensures that the driver has seen you, although you still shouldn’t assume—make eye contact but continue to take other precautions.

Be Predictable While Running

Try to be as consistent and predictable as possible while running. Maintain a steady pace, try to run in as straight a line as possible, and don’t do anything crazy! A sudden change in direction or stopping suddenly can confuse drivers or give them a fright.

Sticking to routes you’re quite familiar with is a great idea. That way, you’ll have a good idea of what hazards do pop up on the route, and you can take steps to avoid them without needing to make any sudden movements.

Try and Avoid Distractions

If you’re running in traffic, avoiding distractions like checking your phone, checking data on your watch, or listening to loud music is best. Your attention should be firmly on the road and vehicles around you.

If you really want to listen to music while you run, we recommend a set of bone conduction earphones. They leave your ears open so you can still hear what’s going on around you, but you’ll still get a great music experience.

Alternatively, you can run with one earbud out of your ear for better hearing, or keep the volume of your music very low. As long as you can hear the ambient noise clearly, you’ll be good to go.

Be Aware of Blind Curves and Hills

If you see a blind curve or a hill coming up, remember that it’s safer to run with traffic as you approach it. You may need to slow down a little and wait for an appropriate time to cross the road, so you stay safe.

On the other hand, if you know your route well and you’re aware of where the blind hills and curves are, you can plan for crossing the road at a safe place.

Run In Single File When Running In a Group

If you’re running in a group, it can be tempting to run in a bunch, which is easier and more sociable too! However, it’s much safer to run in a single file, and of course, against traffic.

This significantly reduces the amount of space your group takes up on the road, and there’s a slight bonus of a bit of streamlining!

Also, communicate about vehicles coming up or approaching from behind. It’s also a good idea for all of you to wear something bright-colored, reflective, and easy for motorists to see.

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AUTHOR

Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.