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? This is one of the top rules for safe walking, and it differs from the rules for bicycling. 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, because drivers have the low-lying sun in their eyes as they approach you. You need to be vigilant. Avoid the dangers of distracted walking and keep your eyes ahead and looking for vehicles, not on your mobile phone. You should always ensure you can hear ambient noise and you aren't screening it all out with noise-canceling earphones or earbuds.

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

You should also wear wear reflective clothing and consider wearing a flashing light.

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. Most one-way roads have a road going the opposite way nearby, and you may choose it so you can walk 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. Educate them as to which is the safer choice.

Some organized fitness walking events, such as volkssport walking events, follow pedestrian safety rules and don't have roads closed off from vehicle traffic. These walks should follow the rule of having walkers on the left side of the road (facing oncoming traffic) if there is no sidewalk or separated path.

Be aware that some veteran walkers and event organizers have not learned this rule, or firmly believe it is the opposite. They may have picked that up from events where they normally close a lane of traffic for the walkers and runners and not realize the risk on an open road.

There are events such as half marathons that route the racers on an uncontrolled course but in the same direction as traffic. If you encounter this, be sure that you and your friends walk single file, keep far to the right, and alert each other when a car is approaching you from behind. It is generally better to obey the course officials during the event.

The situation can be even more hazardous if you walk on the left side but others continue to walk on the right side. But you should also contact the event organizers immediately afterward and tell them that this was a potentially dangerous choice for a route that was not separated from traffic.

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