I’ve written before about the dangers we face while running (here, here, and here) and I am going down that road again today. But I won’t offer a list of safety tips or point out ways women should protect themselves–I’m sure you can find a zillion of those with a quick Google search.
No, today I’m talking to you, drivers.
Over the past two weeks alone, in broad daylight, I’ve had five or six close calls with cars that approached an intersection too fast, blocked a crosswalk, blew through a crosswalk to turn right on red, or failed to yield even when I had a Walk signal and the legal right-of-way. While I can do everything right when I’m running, “right” doesn’t shield me in a collision with a 3000-pound car. Just ask a couple of Austin ISD students who recently were hit by cars as they exited school buses, protected by flashing red lights (and state law) but not physics.
In 2015, 32 pedestrians died in collisions with vehicles in Austin, compared to 12 in 2010 and 21 in 2011. The statistics I found pointed out that 26 of the 32 occurred because the pedestrian was impaired, crossing without a Walk signal, or doing something prohibited like trying to cross I-35. But the flip side is that six of them were struck down–and killed–through no fault of their own.
So while it’s incumbent upon runners to take safety precautions out there on the streets, it’s also necessary for drivers to engage with the driving process. We’re so insulated in our almost-completely automated cars, and so many distractions lurk on dashboards, navigation panels, and phones that it’s no coincidence pedestrian-vehicle fatalities have skyrocketed at the same time Americans’ smartphone ownership increased from 35% in 2011 to 68% in 2015.
If data doesn’t convince you that digital distraction is becoming epidemic, then how about personal observation? Whenever possible, I face traffic when I run, and I watch cars and drivers’ eyes to avoid surprises. Just the other day I saw a driver who used his wrists to steer while both hands positioned his phone horizontally at eye level. I don’t know if it was Pokemon or YouTube or what, but driving was not his immediate priority. More commonly, drivers focused on the phones they held up (in plain sight) with their right hands; others, less brazen, looked down at their laps for extended moments instead of out their windshields. And then there were drivers who, despite hands-free ordinances and the widespread availability of Bluetooth connectivity, still talk with their phones clutched to their heads. Even phones attached to dashboard-mounted brackets take a driver’s attention off the road periodically.
So drivers, I know sitting in Austin traffic is infuriating and you reeeallly want to make it through the light this time. Or you must race home to let the dog out or relieve the babysitter. Or if you don’t send that text while you’re thinking about it, you’ll forget by the time you get out of the car. Or you are certain you’re really good at texting while driving so it’s okay. Or a million other reasons why your attention is only partially on the road in front of you.
But please stop. Stop for the red light, stop behind (not in) the crosswalk. Slow down and look for pedestrians before you make a turn, and use your blinker so pedestrians know what to expect. Look out your windshield instead of in your lap or at a digital screen. Put your phone away, even while you’re waiting for the light to change.
Tommy Lasorda said that “Baseball is like driving. It’s the one who gets home safely that counts.” And we’re all trying to get home safely.
About the Author: Melissa Cooper started running in 2011 with Couch to 5K. In the summer of 2012, in what seemed like a leap, she joined Rogue Running and completed her first half-marathon–San Antonio Rock and Roll–later that year. Finishing San Antonio was supposed to be a one-time bucket list thing, but these days her half-marathon total is at double digits (and climbing). Her favorite race distance is probably the ten-miler. By day, she is a middle school teacher who juggles work and life and running—sometimes even successfully.