Which Side of the Road Should You Walk On?

What's the Safety Rule?

Walking on the Wrong Side of the Road
Walking on the Wrong Side of the Road. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Which side of the road is the safest to walk on if there are no sidewalks that separate you from traffic? 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)."

Walk Facing Oncoming Traffic, Against the Traffic Flow

Why is it safer to walk on the same side of the road as oncoming traffic, while cyclists are advised to go with the flow of traffic? If traffic approaches you from behind while you are walking, 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. You need to be vigilant. Avoid the dangers of distracted walking - keep your eyes ahead and looking for vehicles, not on your mobile phone.

If you are walking at dawn, dusk, or after dark it is even more important to walk facing traffic and to wear reflective clothing.

Right Side, Left Side, Wrong Side

  • United States, Canada, Europe: If you are in the United States or other countries where cars drive on the right side of the road, you should walk on the left side when you are on a two-way road.
  • Britain: If you are in Britain or countries where vehicles drive on the left side of the road, you should walk on the right side when you are on a road with two-way traffic.
  • One-Way Roads: If you are walking on a one-way road, you should try to arrange your walk so you are walking facing traffic, on whichever side has the widest shoulder. It's best to avoid walking in the same direction as traffic on a one-way road. As they usually come in pairs, you should choose to walk on the road where you would be facing oncoming traffic.
  • Sidewalks: It's safest to use the sidewalk or path that is separated from the roadway. In this case, it doesn't matter for safety whether you are facing traffic or not.

Speak Up for Safety

When you are walking with a walking partner or group, encourage them to walk on the side of the road facing traffic or to use the sidewalk. We are all responsible for keeping each other safe.

I've been a trailmaster for hundreds of volkssport walking events, where we follow pedestrian safety rules and don't have roads closed off from vehicle traffic. We have always followed the rule of having walkers on the left side of the road (facing oncoming traffic) if there was no sidewalk or separated path.

I went on a charity walking/biking trip to France and the leader had us walking on the right side of the road with the traffic flow. 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, which turned out to stem from the 3-Day Breast Cancer Walks, where they block off a bike path or vehicle lane for the walkers.

It may apply in that case, but not for a small group walking on a road that is open to traffic. For safety, we all wore reflective yellow vests, which is probably a factor in why the group walked safely on the wrong side of the road for many years. They were also very vigilant and alerting each other to traffic approaching them from behind.

I walked a half marathon in Washington state that was primarily for runners, but was walker-friendly. However, they had us walking on the right side of the road, thinking this was the best way to monitor us. I was in fear for my life through the four hours of walking, as I was at the tail end with only a handful of other walkers and local traffic did not expect us to be out on these two-lane roads.

The police patrol car would also pass by only inches away from me. I messaged the race director afterward to tell them about my discomfort, and the next year they routed us on the left side of the road, facing traffic.

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