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Relationships between Runners and Drivers

This is not going to be a positive blog. It will be a post that hopefully people can learn from.

My friend’s brother just died. You don’t know him. I barely knew him; I met him this past summer at our cross country camp for our high school. I can’t say that I had an actual relationship with him besides mutually knowing who each other were. Although you do not know him, if you are reading this blog then you most likely relate to him in one major aspect. He was a participant in the running culture. He was a freshman on the cross-country team at the high school that I used to run for. He had learned from his brother what one could get out of a hard day of pounding the pavement. And that was how he passed away, doing what he loved most.

But why? Why did this happen? Why him? It could have been any of us. As runners, we take for granted the surrounding environment. Rarely do we think about the legitimate negative consequences that can occur on a run. Maybe an occasional sprained ankle or a muscle pull crosses our minds, but what about getting hit by a car? The thought is in the back of our minds, but realistically we are prone to thinking that A) we will be able to jump out of the way of the car because we are quick enough or B) the driver will realize his mistake and swerve away from us. But is this really the case?

From personal experience, I can talk forever about negative experiences that I have had with automobiles. Almost always, we are getting harassed for trying to harness the physical potentials of our body. While we are trying to improve our endurance and stamina, people hurtle insults at us or honk at us or do anything to throw (throwing objects for example) us out of a rhythm. But, sometimes it goes a step further from verbal abuse to actually threatening physical harm. There have been a couple times where I have been out on the road (facing traffic so I know what is coming my way) when cars have driven at me, literally acknowledge my presence, change direction and drive at me and then swerve away at the last minute like some disgusting game of chicken. These incidents occur when people acknowledge us; now, think of what happens when drivers fail to acknowledge that they are sharing the road with other people.

There are the people that will pull into an intersection or out of a driveway or parking lot too far so that they obstruct the sidewalk. Or, they are not obstructing the sidewalk, but as you get nearer, you notice that the drivers are fixated on one direction and think the other direction is all clear. So, clearly they are not going to see you because they are too into making the next turn. This is always iffy because we as runners do not know whether to run in front of the car (where we have the right to the street) and risk getting hit by a car OR running behind the car (the safer alternative, but who wants to do those three 90 degree turns to get around it?).

Example of car in the walkway

And then, there is the texting epidemic. We are all guilty of it. We feel our phone vibrate or our ringtone come on and we glance down at our phone and then in most cases, respond. Even the most vigilant driver loses all focus if they are busy trying to punch in a conversation on their iPhone and those 15 seconds that it takes to text could result in an accident. In 2009, 5,474 people were killed in the U.S. because of accidents that involved distracted driving. Another 448,000 were injured. Of the 5,474 killed because of distracted driving, 995 involved reports of a cell phone as a factor. However, the number of fatalities caused by cell phone use could be much higher. For those who were injured, 24,000 involved reports of cell phone use as a distraction (http://www.edgarsnyder.com/car-accident/cell-phone/statistics.html). Obviously, not all of those fatalities and injuries involve runners, but the overarching point and question remains the same: we are a distracted society, but why? I’ll get to that later.

Up until now, it may seem like I am laying all the blame on the drivers and cutting the runners slack. But, I’m not naive; accidents are a two-way road. Us runners do plenty to contribute the chaos and disorder in the streets. In groups, we will take over streets often forgetting that cars use these to get to their destinations as well. Individually, what do we do? We run through no walking signs at intersections (because, hey, we’re not actually walking). We run in front of cars about to pull out of parking lots (see 2 paragraphs up). We run across lanes of traffic with cars barreling down on us often just sticking up our hand to have them slow down. At night, we will run in the streets even though we are not wearing readily visible clothing in the dim light. So, runners are just as much to blame as drivers, maybe even more so for accidents that occur.

Even as I was trying to put into perspective what my teammate’s death meant on my run, I realized that I was still making the mistakes that he was doing. At least five times during my run today alone, I was committing pedestrian violations or just straight running in front of cars. What we are failing to realize is that cars are bigger than us. If we hit them, we either die or get seriously injured. If they hit us, there is maybe some structural damage to their bumper or windshield.

Now I want to bring up the question I was asking earlier: why are we such a distracted society? It’s because in this day and time where you can video chat instantly with someone in Korea or send an e-mail to someone in Canada with the click of a mouse, we are constantly rushing around to try to maximize efficiency. Everything is all about deadlines, about getting stuff done, so we can hurry off to the next task at hand. Drivers are doing it; most people are trying to get to where they need to go as fast as they can. This past week, my parents were in two car accidents and each time they were rear ended by the car behind them. Why does a car rear end another car? Because it was driving too close and the driver was too distracted to notice the back lights illuminating. I’m guilty. I’ve avoided so many collisions where I would have destroyed the car in front of me just by sheer dumb luck. I play with my iPod when I drive and I text and one day I will probably pay the price and actually hit the car. By maintaining this trend, we are compounding rushing around with distraction and the results are never good.

Runners are just as guilty. Our runs represent the one time of day that is supposed to be our escape from the world and we are still rushing through it. We run through stop lights and in front of cars. Where do we need to be? We need to chill out and relax; that is the ultimate goal of our activity. Sure there is the thrill of competition and the joy from gutting out a tough day, but ultimately this is how we deal with the world… or at least how I deal with it.

Throughout all of this, never do we take the time of day to just step back and put everything in perspective. Until something like this happens and a fourteen year old boy loses his life.  It makes everything else seem so trivial when a life is lost. Who cares about your deadline or that you may be late getting home to dinner if a kid is never going to get his driver’s license? If people just put the world away for a minute and realized what is most important in this world (our health and our family’s health) than we would not take all this for granted.

It’s so chilling because I was having this exact conversation with one of my friends just earlier this week. I was stressing out and trying to do too much and just rushing through my days. He told me that when you think about the world differently, then your priorities change. You turn rushed deadlines into challenges you are prepared for and not stressed out about. By doing this, what becomes important is the health of those you care about. My heart aches for my friend right now and my prayers are with him and his family, but I hope that we can all learn from this and that my teammate (indirectly) did not pass away in vain.

To drivers: remember that you rule the road. How you drive effects everything and everyone else. Driving is a privilege, not an obligation. Be smart and constantly vigilant.

To runners: we do not rule the road. As much as we may like to think of ourselves as road warriors, we are not. We have frail bodies that are susceptible to all types of damage. Think when you are out there and do not take what we do for granted because in an instant it can all be taken away.

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One response »

  1. Please God bless the parents and family of Patrick Mizwicki. You are all in our prayers. Thanks Zach, for explaining the perils of runners out on the road. But it’s really everyone who shares the road with cars. There are plenty of biking trails in Illnois that cross busy roads where people barely slow down. Everyone needs to slow down and do only one thing at a time- drive, focus. Stop before the white lines at intersections. Pay attention before you regret.

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