This Saturday morning at mile 6 of an 8-mile training run I had one of those moments that every distance runner who pounds the pavement on local streets fears.
An SUV under the control of an inattentive driver turned right into my path and I honestly wasn’t sure if I could get out of the way in time.
I believed I was about to be hit by a car.
The fact that I’m writing this from my computer at home and not from a hospital bed lets you know that I indeed dodged a 3-ton bullet.
Here’s the skinny.
I was running down the bike path of Riverside Drive near Griffith Park. You have to understand this is probably the most familiar stretch of road I’ve ever run.
During my seven years of distance running and training with Team To End AIDS (T2), I’ve probably pounded this particular stretch of pavement at least 250 times. This is right by Mountain View Park, where during marathon training season The Bolivers are waiting to greet the T2 crew with water, snacks and support.
This is one my favorite spots to run… period.
As I approached the traffic light at Beachwood Drive, I did what I always do when I get near any intersection.
- I checked the traffic light in my direction. Green.
- I checked the “Walk/Don’t Walk” indicator. White stick figure.
- I glanced at both side streets to see if there were cars near the intersection side streets. None… at least none that I could see at that particular moment.
Conclusion: proceed through the intersection as usual.
But just as I started to enter the intersection, something appeared at the far edge of my peripheral vision. Something moving fast. Something big.
A white SUV.
It was basically ignoring the red light and turning right without coming to a stop first.
And it was turning right into my path.
Each of us at some point has gone into “fight or flight” mode, where in order to handle an emergency, time seems to slow down to a crawl and your senses feel heightened.
In my own personal “Matrix” mode, here’s what happened in almost the blink of an eye.
- I stopped my forward momentum.
- I looked into to the cabin of the SUV where I spied a driver (male) and a passenger (female).
- The driver was looking left for approaching cars and the SUV’s speed slowed slightly (he probably used the brake to slow somewhat). But he wasn’t looking right at all. He didn’t know I was there. And he wasn’t stopping.
- The SUV started turning right and I realized I was positioned dead center of its grill. He was turning right into me.
This was bad. Real bad.
If I didn’t act immediately, I was going to get hit. It was that simple.
I simultaneously jumped to the left while waving my arms and yelling (hoping to get the passenger’s attention).
Fortunately, the combination worked as the passenger apparently yelled (getting the driver’s attention), the driver slammed on his brakes and the SUV came to an abrupt halt right where I had been just the moment before.
It had missed me. Barely.
My heart was now going what felt like a million beats a second. I stormed around the front of the now stopped SUV to confront the driver.
My mind came up with a million things to yell at this incredible douche-nozzle. I was going to rip into him like I’ve never ripped into anyone before. This son of a bitch could have really hurt me.
As I reached the driver’s side window, I was ready for a confrontation. Hell, I wanted one.
The driver had rolled down his window. And then I saw his face.
He was just an average guy. It could have been anyone. It could have been me.
And he looked more shaken than I was.
Then I heard his words: “I am so sorry.”
And with that, my rage melted away in an instant.
He wasn’t the devil. He wasn’t some incredibly angry bastard wanting to personally do me harm. He was just someone who had made a huge mistake. And he knew it.
I took a breath and simply explained to him that runners typically run against traffic for safety’s sake, so when turning right on a red drivers need to look to their right as well. And come to a full stop before entering an intersection.
He apologized again and I responded with a simple: “That’s okay. Please be more careful in the future.”
The SUV drove off (slowly) and after calming down, I completed my run realizing the whole way exactly how lucky I was.
I wish I could say this is the first close call I’ve had while running, but unfortunately I’ve had several other “near misses” over the years. Sometimes it’s drivers not stopping for red lights or stop signs. Other times they’ve been on the phone or distracted and not fully aware of their surroundings. And once it was indeed because a guy apparently felt slighted that a pack of runners were on the road he was driving and purposely drove dangerously close, flipping us off afterward. Now that guy was a true douche-nozzle.
But whatever the reason, my incident on Saturday is just another cautionary tale of what could happen out there. And far too often I do read stories of runners and cyclists being injured and sometimes killed by cars.
It happens. But it doesn’t have to.
Now I could use the rest of this post to preach to the drivers out the need to be careful. But let’s be honest, the only people who read this blog are runners. So instead I’ll just plead for you to please be careful out there.
As my running coach JC reminds us each season, in a collision between a human and a car, the car will win every time… no matter who is in the wrong. “The laws of physics will always trump the laws of man.”
There are plenty of “runner safety” articles on the internet.
There’s some real good pointers there. And let me toss a few extra tidbits when it comes to cars.
- When running on sidewalks, always be aware of driveways and alleys (especially blind ones). Be prepared for a car to appear without warning.
- Don’t trust a car’s turn signal. People leave those on accidentally all the time.
- If you must cross a car’s path at a stoplight or stop sign, check the cabin of the car. Make sure the driver has seen you before you ever put your body in front of a stopped car.
- Beware bends in the road, especially sharp curves. Drivers sometimes misjudge them and cut them too tight or not tight enough.
- If you’re running hills, be extra cautious approaching the crest. It can be a blind spot for drivers.
- And ALWAYS have an exit strategy. Wherever you’re running, always know where you’ll go in the unlikely event a car is heading directly at you.
- Be ready for anything.
Please be careful out there everyone.
And run on…
NOTE: If you have any safety tips to add, please share them here. You’re fellow pavement pounders will appreciate it.
Posted on July 5, 2016, in General. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.
What I’ve noticed is that we are particularly vulnerable to cars turning right. They naturally look to their left for oncoming traffic, but don’t always look right because there’s no danger for them that way. Oncoming traffic from their right will be in the far lane, of no concern to them. That’s when we need to follow your “make eye contact” rule to a T. Glad you’re okay!
Thanks for the note… you hit an important point right on the head. Drivers turning right often don’t look right because cars are never coming in that lane (nor are cyclists) so they don’t give it a second thought. Looking left, then right, then left again is replaced with a quick glance to the left and then off they go. I always am extra wary of the rolling stop/right turn… but this one on Saturday came out of nowhere. Run safe!
Bottom line: run defensively! Nice write-up, Scott, agreed. Multiply this by running in the US Army for 20 years around herculean sized moving military transport…fortunate I survived it too. Count your blessings my friend, glad you’re ok. Resp;Eddie Hahn
Date: Tue, 5 Jul 2016 09:07:24 +0000 To: email@example.com
Thanks Eddie. The military has some massive machines and I would be freaked out running near those things (glad they’re on our side). That definitely must have kept you on your toes.
Glad you are ok! Things could have been much worst. Thanks for those tips. While it would be great for drivers to be more vigilant, there are definitely things runners can do to stack the odds in our favor. When I’m driving, I always make eye contact with runners and slow down immensely so they know what I’m doing. You can never be too careful!
Thanks for the comment. It is up to runners to be the more vigilant because in a collision with a car the runner will lose 100% of the time.