An Open Letter to Drivers From Runners

Hi there.

It’s been a long day, hasn’t it? I suppose that’s as much the reason why you’re rushing to get home as it is for me being out on a run right now. You’re aching to get home and shake the day off, and I’m lucky to already be out here doing just that. Shaking off my day with a run.

But the thing is, you almost hit me with your car. 

I’m all dressed up like it’s 1983 in reflective neon clothing, wearing a headlamp, and I have a couple of strobe lights clipped to my bright pink safety patrol vest crossing behind and over my shoulders. This isn’t how I prefer to “get lit,” ha ha, but I wanted to make sure I could be seen because I have a couple of streets to cross on my way to the running trail where I’ll have to be visible to cyclists grunting, “On yer right,” as they pass me in a whirl of wind.

So what was that back there? I saw the look in your face. It was annoyed, and it said, “I’m not stopping. Get the hell out of my way.” Do you really want to get somewhere two seconds faster so much that you’d actually hit me with your car?

I waited patiently on the corner for the flashing white walking guy to tell me that it’s okay to cross. I could have jay-walked or illegally crossed before it was my right of way, but I decided to stand here and wait for my turn instead. And it turns out it was actually safer for me to cross illegally when no one was turning than it was for me to obey the law and cross on my right of way just as you were making a turn. That’s either some weird irony or poor urban planning. Or it means you assumed I wouldn’t be there and proceeded to turn with gusto as opposed to caution. And after you slammed on your brakes and waved at me to proceed, it means you know you should have yielded to me but didn’t.

It makes things worse when you honk at me, flash your lights at me, or roll your window down and yell at me. “Hey watch out! Look where you’re going! Get out of the f***ing street!” I understand you’re most likely reacting out of fear. I know that deep down, you don’t want to cause harm to me, and that you’re just reacting to suddenly being scared, like someone was hiding in your back seat and shouted, “Boo!” when it was the last thing you expected.

But you were driving through pedestrian-heavy, walker-friendly Arlington, and it’s logical that pedestrians would get a walk signal when traffic flows the same way as they are moving, so actually, that’s exactly what you should have expected.

So, why did you look so surprised or annoyed to see me crossing the street where and when I am legally permitted to do so?

Look, I don’t want to point fingers just at you. As scary was it was for me to come face to face with your bright headlights and hear the screech of your brakes on cement from literally 2 feet away, I have to find some way to see this from your perspective so I can be a better pedestrian. I am also a driver, and I constantly see people crossing the street where there is no crosswalk or when it’s not their turn. I’ve also almost hit people who– I swear!– came out of nowhere because they did not make themselves visible in bright colors or lights. I get so mad at those people because they make those of us who do obey the law look irresponsible and unpredictable. Those people are the ones that local police departments and municipal government have issued PSAs about, blaming pedestrians for almost getting hit. They make your drive home a lot harder than it should be, and you’ve already had a long day.

Also, pedestrians are not the first things you think about when you’re behind the wheel. You’re thinking about the speed limit, watching what other cars are doing, wondering if the idiot in front of you knows his blinker has been on for the last mile. You’re watching for your next turn, still processing your day, half-listening to the radio, and the movement of the car is admittedly very relaxing. It’s like a whole new ‘nother world in your fiberglass carton on four wheels. And I can’t imagine it’s not a little bit terrifying for you, too, to realize you almost hit somebody. To look up and see someone frozen in fear in the brightness of your headlights. Your mind instantly goes on the defense, but it’s to protect yourself from the immensity of realizing what could have happened if you had, say, decided to change the station while making your turn.

But you need to fully realize what could have happened so that you fully learn to watch for pedestrians in the future. I’m not a bug that just flew into your windshield, something you’ll just scrub off later when you fill up with gas. I am a person, a human being, with a life and people who care about me and a legally protected right to cross the street.

To be honest, I didn’t always dress in flashy lights and neon until a couple of near-hits made me realize that perhaps I was the problem. But that was years ago, and it’s disheartening to do what those PSAs tell us pedestrians to do— dress in light colors, make eye contact with the driver, put your phone down, don’t jay-walk— and still almost get hit. And on a nearly typical basis, too. This says to me that drivers have not learned that they are driving in a pedestrian-heavy area. This says to me that drivers see pedestrians as an inconvenience, or that you think we are the ones in the wrong because drivers don’t think about the traffic rules that those of us on foot have to obey. To you, you’re in the correct lane, you have your blinker on, you have the green light, and I’m in the street, which is your turf, not mine. Why am I blocking you by crossing the street and why do you have to yield to me? Surely, I’m the wrong one here, and you’re in a serious hurry. I’m over here doing my part, and yet, I don’t have enough fingers to count how many times I have felt my stomach singe with the burn of adrenaline when I realize that you didn’t see me and had to slam on your brakes to keep from hitting me.

Okay, this is getting emotional. I’m letting my own fear do the typing, so instead I’m going to calm down.

The thing is, in a match-up between us two, you would win every time, and that scares the sh*t out of me. I tell myself I am made of steel to get through a tough run, but I am an iron soul in a fragile blob of a human body that cannot withstand the impact of a vehicle. If you hit me, I will likely not make it. If I do make it, my life will never be the same. That fact is very real to me, which is why I dress to the nines in neon and light and obey the walk signs and put my phone down when I’m crossing the street. That fact is very real to me– why isn’t it very real to you? Why doesn’t that scare the sh*t out of you, too? It wouldn’t just be my life impacted: it would be yours as well. My family, your family. We’d all be wrapped up in this literally split-second incident for years to come. I’m sure you’re very nice and throw lovely parties, but I kind of don’t want that for me. And I don’t want it for you either.

So, all I am asking is that you remember me when you’re behind the wheel.

I’m just a pedestrian, standing at an intersection, asking the oncoming driver to please look for and yield to me as I cross the street. 

Just like you remember to signal a turn to the car behind you by using your blinker, to come to a full and complete stop and look both ways at a stop sign, to keep your hands at 10:00 and 2:00. Kidding on that last one, but you know what I mean, right? Just like you automatically remember to do all of things when you get behind the wheel, remember that there are people who likely want to cross the street that you want to turn onto. Put a note on your dashboard. When you put your blinker on, remember to look for pedestrians. Form that mental association. Where there are corners, there are people. Look for cars, then look for people.

If you come up on a crosswalk in the middle of a street, look out for those bright yellow signs with a black walking guy on them and slow down until you make sure no one is trying to cross. If the cars behind you honk, let them honk. Do the right thing. Their impatience is their problem, not yours, and certainly not mine. They shouldn’t be following so closely anyways.

For my part, I will continue dressing in bright colors and flashing lights. I will be mindful of where and when I can cross the street, and I’ll wave at you so you see me. I’m very shy so I will feel stupid, but that’s my part in this. I won’t react out of fear and flip the bird if you make an honest mistake. Instead, I’ll just wave “okay” at you so you see me as a person and be mindful next time you’re driving through that area. I’ll keep stressing the importance of visibility to my runner friends. I will keep contacting Arlington County or the DC Department of Transportation if I see a pedestrian light is out (which I have done on several occasions) so that there isn’t any confusion. I will teach my driving-age children someday the importance of watching out for foot traffic while driving through residential or high-pedestrian areas.

I believe this is one thing we both can actively do to be mindful of others and make our streets a little more safe for everyone. I really appreciate your efforts.

Safe travels.

Respectfully yours,

A Runner in Neon Clothing


And because all of us need a refresher on how to be responsible drivers and pedestrians:

Arlington County Police Pedestrian Safety

District Department of Transportation Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety

DC “Be Street Smart” Pedestrian Safety Campaign

Montgomery County Police Department Field Services Bureau Traffic Division: Summary of Maryland Pedestrian Laws

Montgomery County Department of Transportation Pedestrian Safety Initiative and Pedestrian Safety Initiative Blog


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