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Wendy Bumgardner

Which Side of the Road Should You Walk On?

By September 19, 2011

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Wrong - Walking on the Right Side of the RoadFor 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

September 19, 2011 at 5:35 pm
(1) Ray says:

I always walk into the traffic and will continue to do so. I would feel very unsafe and uncomfortable walking with the traffic.

September 20, 2011 at 12:18 pm
(2) Jon says:

I also will walk INTO traffic. It is the safe way to go!

September 20, 2011 at 3:25 pm
(3) Sarah says:

With three generations of cops in the family as well as a fitness guru for a mother I have always been told to walk into traffic. It is far less dangerous due to the fact that you can see the cars coming, and the cars that drive up behind you are a safer distance away. So you’ve been doing right, anyone who says to walk with traffic is an idiot waiting to get hit.

November 2, 2011 at 9:06 am
(4) John Z Wetmore says:

The general rule is to walk on the left facing traffic when there is no sidewalk, and in fact that is the law in some states.

However, local conditions do make a difference. Is there more space to move off the road on one side or the other? Are there visual or physical obstructions like shrubbery, steep slopes, and guardrails on one side but not the other?

Perhaps most importantly, are there more intersections and driveways on one side? When you are on the left you can see oncoming traffic better, but you have a poorer view of cars turning left from behind you. And you are very vulnerable to cars turning right from the side streets, who are looking left for traffic and not right for pedestrians.

So you have to use a little judgement and evaluate the specific conditions where you are walking.

June 21, 2012 at 10:04 am
(5) Jennifer says:

When my mom and I go walking she’ll face traffic always but I usually just walk on the side of the road that I can see the farthest down. The reason I do that is because of sharp turns, they are all around where I live. If a car comes around the corner they won’t see me till it’s too late. I’d rather be on the side of the road I can see farthest down and cars can see me from a distance no matter what side I am on. To me it’s safer and logical, but my mom is always on my back about it and we end up in huge fights because of it.

April 2, 2014 at 2:03 am
(6) Paul B says:

Actually if you read the Highway Code the rule Is to walk on the left where you are walking in a large group. It suggests walking with a back marker having a red light and a front marker having a white light.

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