Don’t Get So Close To Me

I very nearly got killed two weeks ago. I was running along the village road, when a car came round a corner at a ridiculous speed. I was running towards the traffic, as is advised. I was on the road because there is no path on the village road, apart from a very short stretch much further down the road than where I was at the time. I was tucked into the kerb.

The road is one (unmarked) lane in each direction but if two cars pass each other there’s not much space on either side of the road. So, if vehicles see me as they approach, they have to slow down if there’s something coming in the opposite direction and then overtake me once the other vehicle has gone past.

It’s an interesting one because quite often you can tell by driver’s faces as they approach that they don’t see why they should slow down for a runner. Some of them just don’t bother even trying, whizzing past, inches from you. It’s incredible how many drivers seem to be oblivious to what I’d have thought was a pretty well-known fact, namely:

‘If you hit a pedestrian (runner) in a car, even at 30 mph, the pedestrian (runner) is likely to be seriously injured or killed.”

Anyway, back to the matter in hand. I’m in a nice rhythm, enjoying my run on a Saturday morning. I’d already done about 4.5 miles, with just under 1.5 to go, to get home. It’s still lockdown during the COVID pandemic, but nevertheless, there were more vehicles evident on our main road through the village, which also just so happens to be a cut through to junction 8 of the M11 Motorway.

The section of road I was on, is a 40 mph zone. All of a sudden, as I approach a slight bend in the road, a sports car comes flying towards me. It was almost bobbing along sideways, it was going so fast round the bend.

Then came one of those strange moments where time stands still. I could see the car was on course to hit me. That is all I can really remember. That and the fact that the driver was an older chap, with slicked-back white hair. I remember that because we got fairly up close and personal to each other.

I also know that I threw myself kerbside even more than I was already (although there were hedges right up to the roadside). He certainly emergency braked and swerved, at the very last minute, as he went past me.

I wasn’t hurt, but my hackles were up. He’d pulled up to halt in his car further back behind me and was hitting his steering wheel, shouting:

“Get off the f*****g road!’

Which kind of made me fairly annoyed. However, as I started to make my over to his vehicle he drove off. Probably good for us both that he did.

Then I carried on with my run.

“Get off the f*****g road!”

It was when I got home that I got really angry. The bloke was absolutely flying along the road. I’m guessing he was doing 60/70. As a runner, you get a sense of whether a motor vehicle is:

  1. Doing less than the speed limit or less – ‘nice one, thank you.’
  2. Over the speed limit a bit – ‘just slow it down a tad please.’
  3. Absolutely flying -‘ What the F***?’

‘Old Slicked Back ‘ was in category 3 and a bit.

What really got to me, was that his first thought wasn’t that he’d nearly brought about my demise, but that he should instead yell at me for being on the road!

I really wanted to tell him, very politely ( whilst pinning him to the floor) that, “I am totally within my rights to run along MY own village road. Where there is no pavement on the particular stretch of road I want to run on, I have to run on the f***ing road itself. Oh and by the way the speed limit is 30 mph and in some stretches 40 mph, and you, old boy, were travelling at almost double the speed limit. It’s you that needs to get off the ‘f*****g road!”

Then I would pick him up off the floor, dust off his dandruff ridden lapels and send him on his way. By bus.

“Irritants, to be buzzed out of the way”

There’s no doubt that there are a great number of motorists – car, van and truck drivers who think that the road belongs to them. Full stop. Studies carried out in recent years seem to confirm this. An article in Forbes magazine in 2018, reported on the results of two such surveys, concluding that:

“Those piloting heavy, fast motor vehicles often use their speed and power to muscle all non-motorised users out of the way, sometimes without knowing they’re doing it. “Vulnerable road users” – such as cyclists and pedestrians – become either invisible or irritants to be buzzed out of the way.”

Motorists are supposed to give cyclists, motorcyclists and by implication also horses, pedestrians and runners a wide berth of at least 1.5 metres when passing them. Indeed since 2019, police forces have been encouraged to find and apply penalty points to the licences of motorists who they are caught passing cyclists without at least 1.5 metres between them.

The reality is that every time I run down the village road to either the end of it that’s 1.7 miles from home or the other end of it which is 1.2 miles away, on average, on each run, I’m passed, by at least two vehicles, that are far too close to me. No police force in the world can enforce that frequency of incidents of seriously poor driving.

Lockdown has been great in the sense that runners and cyclists have been taking to the roads of the country in ever greater numbers. However, even in the heaviest form of lockdown of several weeks ago, it was impossible to be out on the road without encountering many of our four-wheeled friends behaving badly. Fewer cars on the roads admittedly, but the ones that were out and about saw the quieter roads as an excuse to totally ignore the speed limits and rules of safe driving generally. My recent near accident was evidence of that.

I think the situation has got worse and worse over the last 10 years. So much so that having escaped injury by a whisker the other week, I’ve decided that I will stick to trail running across the fields and countryside paths, around where I live. I’m really fortunate that there’s an abundance of those, plus a National Forest when it opens again. The exception to the rule will be where I can run safely on the pavement.

It shouldn’t be so, but I have to accept the things I cannot change and I can’t change other people’s bad driving. Whilst I love my road running it’s not worth dying for.

(I wrote a more detailed blog on the dangers road runners face on a daily basis for Mooneerams solicitors in September 2019. It can be found here.)