I had one of those shoe-on-the-other-foot moments this week.
A busy Santa Fund season had me working into the evening and I was eager to get home. I pulled out of our building parking lot and onto the access street. I approached the intersection with the main road, where I would take a right turn to head home.
It’s an intersection I know well. I travel it in both directions every day, several times a day.
I looked to my left and saw no headlights cutting through the darkness. I glanced quickly – too quickly – to my right and pulled out.
As I made the turn, I saw a flash, a tiny beam of bright white light. It was a headlamp, similar to the one I wear on my predawn runs.
Then, I made eye contact with the runner.
He shook his head and waved his arms slightly with annoyance – the exact move I’d done countless times when inattentive drivers have nearly run over me at intersections.
For me, encountering a car waiting to make a right turn is one of the most unpredictable situations I have out on the road. I’ve learned to never bet on the driver seeing me. Instead, I usually come to a complete stop, sometimes close enough to the car to reach out and touch it, even when I technically have the right of way.
Having the right of way might help me in a courtroom after I get hit, but in the moment, I know that I’m no match for a vehicle. Legally having the “right of way” won’t save me from broken bones, bruises or long-term injuries. Or worse.
So I stop and I wait. I try to make eye contact with the driver. I wait for them to wave me on. More often than not, I’m convinced they don’t see me at all. No eye contact. No wave. They just make their right turn - with me still standing at arm’s length.
Sometimes, they see me after-the-fact. I can see the look of shock of their faces when they see me standing there after they’ve made their turn.
“They,” in the paragraph above could easily be replaced with “I” in my encounter the other night.
I could blame it on the fact that the visibility at the intersection is less than ideal. From the runner’s standpoint, the shoulder is practically non-existant and the busy traffic forces runners to the very side of the road, close to a guardrail. From the other direction, a telephone pole is positioned just perfectly to block a driver’s view.
I could come up with a list of excuses. But the fact is that I just wasn’t paying attention.
It was late. I was tired. I just wanted to get home.
The moment I saw the beam of light from the headlamp, I cringed. I tried to make an “I’m sorry” face and give an apology wave, even though I know runners can’t really see drivers inside their cars at night.
I couldn’t believe I had become one of “those” drivers, the ones I’m constantly complaining about because of their lack of attentiveness and consideration of those running on the roads.
More than anything, I should know better.
I’d like to think I take the time to look more carefully - in both directions, no matter which way I’m turning – and keep an eye out for my fellow runners.
But at that moment I realized how easy it is not to look for us. It’s easy to take a quick glance for any obvious oncoming traffic and miss someone on two feet.
It also made me realize how invisible runners become in the darkness of winter.
That runner had a headlamp on, but nothing else was reflective, at least not reflective enough for me to notice, and he was covered from head to toe in black and navy blue clothing.
It’s not unlike what I wear on my morning runs, although I have been known to add a reflective vest and flashing light at times. I sometimes think that I must look a little strange, lit up like a Christmas tree, to passing drivers, especially since the majority of my morning route is on the sidewalk.
This week’s near-miss incident reminds me that it doesn’t matter how ridiculous we may look when it comes to safety.
Since then, all of my predawn runs have included a reflective vest, and I’m sure to give a look in the direction of oncoming cars at intersections to give them a flash of my headlamp beam.
To that runner, I thank you for reminding me of the importance of being as visible as possible when running in darkness. And, I thank you for giving me a wake-up call as a driver and reminding me to take a few extra seconds to really look for you.
Most importantly, I’m sorry.
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