Which Is Safest, Running With Or Against Traffic? + 6 Road Safety Tips For Runners

Even though it would be ideal to be able to enjoy our daily runs on perfectly groomed paths that wind around lush green parks or find an empty open road for miles and miles without a car in sight, most runners need to deal with running in traffic. 

While running on the road, several precautions should be taken into consideration to considerably lower the risk of any type of accident and allow us to enjoy our workouts.

Some of the most frequent questions that pop up for runners when headed out onto the city streets for their run is, which side of the road should I run on? And, is it safest for me to be running with or against traffic? 

Knowing which side of the road to run on is just the tip of the iceberg when thinking about road safety while running, but an essential point all the same. 

In this article, we will answer the ever-popular question, should I be running with or against traffic, and give you a list of helpful tips when considering road safety for runners. 

We will discuss the following: 

  • Running With Or Against Traffic, Which Is Best? 
  • 6 Road Safety Tips For Runners 

Ready? Let’s jump in!

A person running on the sidewalk with a car driving by.

Running With Or Against Traffic, Which Is Best? 

To answer the common question, “Which side of the road should I run on?” will differ depending on where you live in the world and, consequently, which side of the road the cars in your area drive on. In some countries, such as the US, cars drive on the right side of the road, and in some countries, like Ireland, cars drive on the left. 

As these rules of the road differ from place to place, the more straightforward question to answer becomes: 

“Should I be running with or against traffic?” 

As a runner, you should always run against traffic.

Running against traffic allows you to monitor the cars at all times. You must be alert and aware of any erratic driving, sudden movements, or drivers simply not paying attention and beginning to stray from their lane and off the road. 

A person running on the road.

Unfortunately, we live in a time when distraction is at its highest, with people driving while on conference calls, texting, eating, and even putting on makeup while driving. Some even put something up to watch on their car’s screen. 

Nowadays, technology is unbelievable; however, it makes for a risky environment while driving, especially for those of us running in traffic. 

This is why runners must be extremely alert during their workouts and always run facing oncoming traffic. 

Now, let’s take a look at some of the most important safety tips and rules to follow when running on the road aside from which side of the road to run on: 

6 Road Safety Tips For Runners 

A person running on a sidewalk in the city.

#1: Find The Safest Path Possible

As we mentioned, we always run on the side of the road where the oncoming traffic is, but now the question is, where exactly do I run on the road? 

In the ideal situation, you want to run on the sidewalk or the designated running path on the side of the road, still facing oncoming traffic.

The issue is that not all streets are equipped with sidewalks or specific pedestrian paths, so if none are available, we need to go to Plan B.

If there is no designated pedestrian area, stay on the shoulder of the road, usually marked off by a white line. This lane should be empty as it’s an emergency lane for a car needing to pull over. 

Plan C would be that if there is no shoulder on the road you are running on, stay as far over to the side, away from the cars, that is still safe. You want to stay as far away from traffic as possible to avoid any potential incidents or accidents. 

If you are in a neighborhood you are unfamiliar with and are unsure of where to run, there are helpful apps such as Strava, where you can see heat maps of the most traveled running routes. This isn’t to say they will be the routes with the least amount of traffic, but if runners are constantly traveling on them, they may be safer than untraveled routes.

A person running in the dark in an orange shirt.

#2: Be Visible  

No matter what time of day you are running, you want to be as visible as possible so that cars, trucks, buses, and other vehicles can easily spot you.

During the day, wear bright neon colors such as orange, pink, and fluorescent green. Wearing neutral colors can make you blend in easily with the background, and as you want to stand out as much as possible, bright colors are the way to go. 

You can also purchase a reflective safety vest to put over your clothes if you are not into buying an array of neon clothing for your wardrobe. 

If you are running in the dark, wear clothing that you can be easily spotted in, with reflective patches worked into the fabric. This will make you more conspicuous to the drivers around you. Many running shoes also have reflective patches worked into the design, which will also help alert drivers.

You can also use a reflective safety vest for running in the dark as an extra precaution. The more, the merrier! If you want to check out some reflective running jackets, click here.

For nighttime or early morning running, carry a light or use a headlamp for extra protection. Headlamps often have specific settings with a red light when running toward oncoming traffic, so your light signals that you are there but doesn’t accidentally blind the driver. 

If you use a small flashlight or regular handheld light, be sure to angle it forward but toward the ground and not straight into the eyes of the drivers.

Here are some of the best headlamps for running out there: The 5 Best Headlamps For Runners.

A person using a headlamp.

#3: Play Defense 

Even if you can make yourself as visible as possible with head-to-toe neon and reflective clothing and use a headlamp, that doesn’t mean the cars will see you. 

It’s essential to always be on the defensive and assume the cars don’t see you.

Be alert at all times and pay extra attention when crossing a street, even if you are in a crosswalk, running along a blind curve, or running up a hill. 

The only time you may need to break the rule of running against traffic is if you can safely get to the other side of the road if you know a blind curve is coming up.

If there is no shoulder to run on in a blind turn, crossing the street safely may be a better bet. 

You’ll have to look at the specific circumstances of the route and traffic situation to make an appropriate and safe decision.

A person wearing bone conduction headphones.

#4: Lower Your Music

When running alone, many runners enjoy listening to a pump-up playlist to boost their workout or an interesting podcast or audiobook to help pass the time. 

When using headphones when running, listen to your music at a very low volume, or even better, not at all when you know you will be running on a busy street. 

Another option is to use only one headphone and keep the other ear clear to stay alert to what is happening around you. You will need to be able to hear any and all traffic noise around you, such as a siren to get out of the way or an emergency vehicle.

Consider purchasing open-ear bone conduction headphones, which are much safer than earbuds or any other headphones you place inside your ear. Open-ear headphones do not insert into your ear; the sound is still excellent. 

You can check out the SHOKZ OpenRun Pro as a great option. 

#5: Run Single File 

If you are running with a buddy or in a group and are in a section of the run where there isn’t much room between you and the cars, run single file so no one is put at risk running closer to traffic.

Then, when the sidewalk or path opens back up, jump right back into the conversation you were having! 

People in a race running single file up front.

#6: Choose Low Traffic Times

This is a tough one because most of us have strict work schedules and can’t really pick and choose when we fit in our runs. 

If you have more of a flexible work and life schedule, try and choose times of the day outside of rush hours to get your workouts in.

It will reduce the number of cars you must deal with and lower your risk in general.

Try and take these safety tips into consideration before your next road run. They will truly help you have a more enjoyable experience knowing you are doing everything possible to stay safe for yourself and your loved ones. 

Other instances, such as a loose dog in your path, can occur during a run. Most of the time, it’s probably an adorable pup who want to play and a bit of love, but if it’s not, it’s important to know how to react. 

To be prepared for this situation, check out our safety guide: What To Do If A Dog Chases You: A 7-Step Plan To Stay Safe.

A sign that says safety first.
Photo of author
Katelyn is an experienced ultra-marathoner and outdoor enthusiast with a passion for the trails. In the running community, she is known for her ear-to-ear smile, even under the toughest racing conditions. She is a UESCA-certified running coach and loves sharing her knowledge and experience to help people reach their goals and become the best runners they can be. Her biggest passion is to motivate others to hit the trails or road alongside her, have a blast, and run for fun!

2 thoughts on “Which Is Safest, Running With Or Against Traffic? + 6 Road Safety Tips For Runners”

  1. I had a run recently where I passed a number of runners, all running with traffic. I was the only one going against traffic. Thought I’d entered the twilight zone.

    Totally agree with everything here. There are a few places where I do cross over to run with traffic because oncoming traffic has a blind corner and no shoulder (sometimes in canyons or mountain roads around Utah). If so, I carefully cross where I can see a good ways in both directions and then cross back again when it’s safe.

    Reply

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