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In the Wake of a Tragedy, We Look at Prioritizing Runner Safety on the Road

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On Monday February 3rd, a high school cross-country team went out for a training run that ended in every runner’s, parent’s, teacher’s, coach’s—everyone’s worst nightmare. The student athletes from Moore High School in Oklahoma were about a half-mile from their school when six of them were struck by a pick up truck

Two of the runners, sophomore Yuridia Martinez and senior Rachel Freeman, did not survive their injuries. Three others remain in the hospital and one has been released. 

Students were running on the sidewalk when they were hit, Moore High School Superintendent Robert Romines said. According to authorities, the driver showed signs of intoxication, but blood test results have not come back officially confirming that. 

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), accidents involving pedestrians are becoming more prevalent. In 2018 they reported the most pedestrian deaths in nearly 30 years. 

Many runners have their own stories of injuries and near-misses with vehicles while out on a run. Like Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier, Kaitlin Gregg Goodman, who was injured while leaping to avoid a car in 2018. The incident fueled her to start her own movement: Safe on the Road. The non-profit promotes awareness and advocacy for pedestrian and runner safety as these types of accidents continue to happen. 

In the NHTSA’s report of accidents involving fatalities they looked at environmental factors, time of day, the involvement of alcohol, and vehicle type. Alcohol was reported to be involved (in the driver and/or pedestrian) in 47 percent of all fatal pedestrian crashes in 2017. 

The report, however, did not evaluate instances of distraction, a known problem plaguing the roads these days. This could be because, as the National Safety Council reports, drivers are reluctant to admit they were texting or talking on the phone while driving, and therefore there isn’t adequate data on the issue.

“Never trust a driver, especially when crossing at an intersection where you may have the right of way,” says Jean Knaack, executive director of the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA). “Drivers are highly distracted these days, and runners need to be hyper-aware and hyper-vigilant of this fact when it comes to their safety out on a run.” 

Unfortunately, we can only control the choices that we make. As drivers, we can abide by the rules of the road and protect pedestrians from the massive hunks of metal we’re surrounded in. As runners, we can move with an awareness of our surroundings and make it easier for the people inside the large hunks of metal to know we are there. Here are some expert tips for both drivers and pedestrians to keep in mind: 

Tips for Drivers from the NHTSA:

  • Be vigilant, especially in low-light conditions.
  • Never pass a vehicle stopped at a crosswalk, they may be stopped for a passing pedestrian.
  • Never drive under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.
  • Slow down in school zones and other areas where children may be present.
  • Follow the speed limit and slow down near pedestrians.

Tips for Runner Safety from RRCA: 

  • Run against traffic so you can observe approaching vehicles and increase your reaction time if necessary. 
  • Look both ways before crossing the street and be sure the driver of the car acknowledges your right-of-way before crossing.
  • Wear reflective material if you’re running in low-light conditions. Avoid running on the street when it’s dark.  
  • Carry identification or write your name, phone number, and blood type on the inside sole of your running shoe. 
  • Practice memorizing license plates or identifying characteristics of strangers. 

Sometimes, no matter how safe you aim to be, tragedies feel unavoidable: “From details I have read in articles, the [Moore High School] team seems to have been doing all of the right things, including running on the sidewalk in the afternoon at the time of the incident,” says Knaack. “It is a terrible tragedy caused by someone that should not have been operating a vehicle.”