Runners have rights too, you know

Lately I have been having brushes with death more often than is good for my heart. As a runner this seems ridiculous. If I was riding a unicycle into the CBD each day like one bloke I know, then perhaps near-misses should be expected. But even riding my scooter across the Harbour Bridge in peak hour isn’t as hairy as some of my morning runs.

The problem is with drivers assuming they have no obligation to make way for anything that happens to be sharing the bitumen with them, even if that “anything” happens to be a runner crossing a road that a driver wants to turn into. The assumption is that they have right of way and the runner should stop for them. But they assume wrong.

I was hit by a car once as I crossed a green walk sign at a traffic light. I was walking. It was a clear, sunny day and I was returning to work after a holiday at Thredbo where I’d been taking lots of risks, including skiing. Walking across the road should have been the least fraught thing I’d done for a week, but it wasn’t and the resultant full-leg cast made me realise that a) one shouldn’t assume drivers know anything and b) I should’ve stayed longer at Thredbo.

Now that I’m a runner, I prefer to run across roads, slowing down just enough to check the traffic and signal to a driver that I’m committed to crossing. It’s annoying to have to suddenly stop - it messes with your rhythm, your breathing, your leg muscles. And besides, the fact is that if I’m about to cross a road, a car wanting to turn into it has to give way to me. Same goes for running across public or private driveways. Of course, when faced with an Audi Q7 driver determined not to engage the brakes, it’s tempting to stop and wave him through, but he’s the one who should hold off.

The NSW Roads and Maritime Services released a “simple guide to the most misunderstood road rules in NSW” and No.2 on the list was this:

“If a driver is turning left or right at an intersection, the driver must give way to any pedestrian crossing the road the driver is entering.This applies to intersections with and without traffic lights. However, this rule does not apply at roundabouts. For their own safety, pedestrians should always check their surroundings before crossing the road.”

In Victoria, the RACV guide explains the rules thus: “When entering a road from a car park, private property or a similar area, drivers must give way to any pedestrians on the road they are entering, or those on the footpath or nature strip the driver must cross to enter the road.

"When entering areas like these from a road, drivers must also give way to pedestrians.

"At intersections, drivers must give way to any pedestrians at or near the road they are turning into. Drivers turning left and using a slip lane must always give way to pedestrians crossing the slip lane.”


VicRoads elaborates: “You [drivers] must give way to any pedestrian at or near the sign or line.  This includes pedestrians as well as bicycles crossing in front of you on a shared or bicycle path.”

Note “at or near”. As a runner approaching a kerb, I try to make eye contact with an approaching driver and hold up my hand to tell them to wait as I’ve got no plans to stop (as per my rights). If you stop and encourage them through, then it’s just confusing all round.

Of course, runners still have responsibilities and the folks at Vic Roads must think some of us aren’t honouring them, because from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014, on-the-spot fines of $72 will be issued to pedestrians who commit offences such as:

  • Crossing against an amber or red traffic light

  • Crossing against a ‘don't walk’ sign

  • Crossing the road within 20 metres of a pedestrian crossing

In Queensland, one pedestrian is seriously injured on average every day, a situation the RACQ is in large part attributing to the high use of distracting devices such as iPods and smart phones. And runners certainly love their iPods.

The RACQ's executive manager of technical and safety policy, Steve Spalding, says pedestrians put themselves at risk when distracted by phones or loud music while crossing roads, but that doesn’t absolve motorists who are vague on the road rules.

“Motorists should keep a keen lookout for pedestrians – particularly near zebra crossings – and if turning left into a street where pedestrians have already started walking, they must give way.                                                                                                         

“If motorists obstruct pedestrians by parking their car across the footpath – forcing pedestrians to walk out onto the road – they can be fined.”

In September the organisation released a YouTube video to remind pedestrians of the risks they face.

Have you had a road run-in?

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