One of my friends had a "close encounter of the motor vehicular kind" last week. At first glance, the entire scenario appears torn out of the middle pages of one of my favorite running novels, John L. Parker, Jr's. "Once A Runner." His post-encounter commentary - with a few minor edits - follows:
"Dear Rogue Driver: Thank you for taking the opportunity to play 'will my insurance cover this?' You chose to run through a posted four-way stop intersection and only look to your left. I, on the other hand, approached from your right. Even though I was decorated more like a flashing Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center, you somehow failed to notice me. Your failure to notice me initially cost you a size 11 dent in your hood, as well as the loss of two windshield wipers and the driver's side mirror."
"I appreciated your creative use of expletives as you drove angrily next me over the next several yards; you failed to appreciate the possibility that I might have been sufficiently prepared for such an encounter. I was physically warmed up, as well as mentally and emotionally-charged as a result of the very angry music to which I was running. I could gladly accept my failure to cleanly evade the initial obstacle outweighed your failure to exhibit your mastery of the English language. However, your effort to compensate for my greater level of failure by cutting me off, then climbing out of your car to take a swing at me was a big mistake. In my humble opinion, that was definitely unacceptable."
"I sincerely hope the hospital trip to seal your lip and stitch the cut under your left eye serves as an object lesson: Just because a man wears short running shorts does not necessarily mean he lacks the ability to loosen a load of rubbish out of your skull should you attempt to run him off the road. In order to save your face and motor vehicle from any further damage it would be wise for you to, at the least, look both ways before violating traffic laws. Sincerely, M.J."
I know M.J.'s actions are likely going to make life more difficult for the next runner "Rogue Driver" encounters. And, as always, it is impossible to glean the salient details of a runner-meets-angry-motorist story from the point of view of the runner. But we perhaps can take away a few points:
The three most important qualities for safe running near motor vehicle traffic are "visibility, visibility and visibility." Well, only if you're a realtor. The two qualities other than visibility might be "hearability" and "communicability." Light-colored clothes, reflective gear, lights; all of these items ought to be part of the runners' wardrobe, and especially during the winter months.
I'm not going to beat the "music headphones are evil and should be destroyed" drum, but please find a way to keep the volume - if you're going to wear them on the run - low enough to hear what is going on around you. Runners tend to listen to music in order to dissociate, get away from the messages being sent to the brain. Sometimes getting away means not getting the important message that an auto or a person are approaching.
Lastly, if you have to defend yourself physically, make certain (as Parker wrote) you can control "the preliminaries." A means of exit that a car cannot follow is good; a means of collecting information for the local law enforcement is better. It doesn't hurt to carry a smart phone with you. Those little cell phone cameras do things which exceed documenting your friends on Saturday night.