For my entire walking life, I have been told to walk on the side of the road where you face oncoming traffic (if there is no separate sidewalk.) In the US, this means walking on the left side of the road. In fact, it is my top walking safety rule. I just returned from a great charity walk in France where the leader had us consistently walk WITH traffic on the right side of the road. I felt disconcerted, but rather than challenge the leader, I went with it. Had I been wrong all these years?
I thought maybe they did this because it was a walk/bike event and that way both walkers and bikers would be on the same side of the road. Finally, I asked the other walkers and they said, "The rule is always to walk with traffic." They were adamant that this was the rule they had always heard, and in their 10 years of this charity walk, they always walked with their backs to oncoming traffic.
I was stunned, as I am the walking expert. The walking clubs and events I've attended for 25 years have always marked the left side of the road, except where we have a wide bike lane or sidewalk only on the right side of the road.
So have I been giving out wrong information for 15 years online? No. From the National Center for Safe Routes to School, "If no sidewalks exist on the road, it is recommended to walk facing oncoming traffic on the same side of the road as the oncoming traffic. When bicycling, you will want to ride on the right (going in the same direction as automobile traffic)."
If traffic approaches you from behind, you have only your ears to rely on to know it is coming. If it is coming from in front of you, you have both your eyes and your ears to help you know to move off to the side (or even jump into the ditch!) If you are walking in the early morning or late afternoon, it is even more concerning if drivers have the low-lying sun in their eyes as they approach you.
But for safety, we wore reflective yellow vests throughout each day's walks. I rarely felt unsafe as we mostly were on little-traveled country lanes. It was gorgeous walking through the French countryside of the Vendee region. I rate it as the best walking trip I've ever been on, despite the flip flop of which side of the road to walk on.
Rules for Safe Walking
Photo © Wendy Bumgardner 2011