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I don't know this question will qualify for this site or not, but, I have this question.

When you are walking on the road anywhere (any country, city, etc),

Which is safer? Walking in the direction of traffic or in opposite direction to traffic?

More elaboration:

  • Walking in the direction of the traffic.

Initially you wouldn't be seeing the vehicle and vehicles will start behind you and pass next to you and away from you (at this stage you can see the vehicle/s).

  • Walking in opposite direction of the traffic.

You can see the vehicle in front of you. It will be approach toward you and passes by you and goes behind you (at this stage you wouldn't see the vehicle).

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9  
Walking on the pavement, perhaps? ;) –  Mark Mayo Sep 27 '13 at 5:07
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Very true. But even then which side of the road? –  Kirk Hammett Sep 27 '13 at 5:08
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At least in Bulgaria the law says that if there is no pavement, you should walk in opposite direction of the traffic –  Dirty-flow Sep 27 '13 at 5:36
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Great question, I actually met people defending both approaches as the one true way to go about it! –  Relaxed Sep 27 '13 at 8:01
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@Andra Well, unlike buying bread, walking is a way to travel… –  Relaxed Sep 27 '13 at 19:25
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9 Answers 9

From EU traffic rules for pedestrians:

  • If, at the side of the carriageway, there are pavements (sidewalks) or suitable verges for pedestrians, pedestrians shall use them.
  • It is recommended that domestic legislation should provide as follows: pedestrians walking on the carriageway shall keep to the side opposite to that appropriate to the direction of traffic except where to do so places them in danger.

So as you said when you walk in opposite direction of the traffic, you can see the approaching vehicles in front of you. OK, you don't see them after they pass you, but at this moment (almost) all danger is past.

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almost? I am trying to imagine some danger that could happen when a car has gone past you. It is not going to back up and hit you (and if it did you would hear it anyway.) Maybe another car could hit it and bounce sideways into you? Not sure how seeing it could help prevent that though. –  Kate Gregory Sep 30 '13 at 13:19
    
@KateGregory that's why it's in brackets. –  Dirty-flow Sep 30 '13 at 13:22
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All other answers are correct, but I think there is one exception:

In a sharp corner with limited visibility, walk in the outer corner, regardless of traffic direction

Walk in the outer corner
Source: Flickr, by Wally Gobetz, Creative Commons by-nc-nd. See page for more information.

When you're walking here, it's safer to go in the outer corner, than in the inner corner, even if this violates the rule to face traffic. Firstly, in the inner corner, you won't see upcoming traffic and it won't see you. Secondly, you have no space to move to the side. Cross the road at a safe distance from the curve, walk through the outer curve, and cross back again at a safe distance. You should be extra careful during this segment, because drivers may not expect pedestrians on the right side of the road.

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2  
Well, plus the outer corner has a big ol' parking lot to walk through. –  Kyralessa Sep 27 '13 at 21:45
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@Kyralessa In this photo, yes. But it still applies if there isn't (I couldn't find as nice a freely available photo without one). –  gerrit Sep 27 '13 at 22:41
    
+1 Very good point, but it's exceptional situation. I think that in general the best solution is opposite direction of the traffic. –  psur Oct 18 '13 at 15:01
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In rural North America, roads without sidewalks (aka pavements) are common. In fact, so are unpaved (gravel) roads, and in winter roads narrowed by snowbanks. School children in Canada are taught to walk facing traffic:

Walk Facing Traffic

From colouring pages by Elmer.

There simply is no debate. Not being able to see a car that has already passed you is irrelevant. Walk facing traffic.

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1  
When I was a Boy Scout leader, we trained our Scouts to follow this rule exactly. –  David Navarre Sep 27 '13 at 20:26
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From the UK Highway Code:

Rules for pedestrians

1

Pavements (including any path along the side of a road) should be used if provided. Where possible, avoid being next to the kerb with your back to the traffic. If you have to step into the road, look both ways first. Always show due care and consideration for others.

2

If there is no pavement, keep to the right-hand side of the road so that you can see oncoming traffic. You should take extra care and

  • be prepared to walk in single file, especially on narrow roads or in poor light
  • keep close to the side of the road.

It may be safer to cross the road well before a sharp right-hand bend so that oncoming traffic has a better chance of seeing you. Cross back after the bend.

Bearing in mind that the UK is left-hand traffic, this says to walk against the traffic.

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As well as this, as SztupY notes, sufficiently large groups behave like cars: "Organised walks. Large groups of people walking together should use a pavement if available; if one is not, they should keep to the left. Look-outs should be positioned at the front and back of the group, and they should wear fluorescent clothes in daylight and reflective clothes in the dark. At night, the look-out in front should show a white light and the one at the back a red light. People on the outside of large groups should also carry lights and wear reflective clothing." –  dbmag9 Sep 27 '13 at 13:29
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Against traffic. Even with a pavement this is advised on several websites, for example, saferoutesinfo, which points out the two major reasons:

  • To make eye-contact with drivers - even if it's a subconscious thing
  • To give yourself the visibility of events, providing opportunity to protect yourself or to take action if a situation is developing ahead where you need to change course.

Clearly this is different in different regions of the world, you can't just say right or left - but generally it's against the traffic. So in the US/Europe/other countries where cars are on the right, you'd walk on the left. In the UK and many Commonwealth countries which drive on the left, you'd walk on the right.

Generally, however, any local laws on this matter only come into play if there's no pavement/sidewalk and you're forced to walk on the road. If you're on the pavement it makes sense to follow this system, but the law doesn't preclude you from choosing to walk on the alternate side.

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As others have stated rules in EU/US/UK usually say that you should walk on the opposite side of the traffic (left side in countries that drive on the right and on the right side in countries which drive on the left).

There are two more rules one should observe:

  1. Multiple pedestrians should go after one another, and not side by side (so they should only occupy one column on the road).

  2. If there are more than a few pedestrians together (a larger group, like more than ten people) then they should go on the same side as the traffic however.

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where do these rules come from? do you consider them common sense or do you have references and could you quote them? –  Vince Sep 27 '13 at 13:13
    
@Vince: Both 1. and 2. are included in the Hungarian Highway Law (called KRESZ, section 3.22.§). There might be something similar in other countries as well, I don't know. There is also the additional law that a large group of people may not do marching (uniformed, steady and rhythmic walking forward) on a bridge, as that can affect the stability of the bridge. –  SztupY Sep 27 '13 at 15:00
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I heard about this rule for groups as well but can't really understand the rationale. –  Relaxed Sep 27 '13 at 16:19
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@Annoyed Probably historical. A group of marching soldiers may be considered a single traffic participant, therefore behaving like other 'ordinary' participants. –  gerrit Sep 27 '13 at 16:27
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@Annoyed I guess the rationale is that when a group is too large to go single-file, any vehicle passing them must go into the middle of the road to do so. There are well-established rules for overtaking something going in the same direction as you, whereas veering into the middle of the road to get past something travelling counter to your direction could confuse other traffic (which may not have seen the walkers). I imagine marching troops are the paradigm case, as gerrit said - this is definitely how they behave on military bases, where they have right of way. –  dbmag9 Sep 29 '13 at 11:33
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I always prefer being on the left side of the road in direction of traffic, because I could see the cars coming in case something seems weird I could try to escape from any event if not is possible or there are too many curves I would be on the other side.

By Portuguese pedestrian laws however you should always face towards the road and have your back facing the vehicles coming in your direction.

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As linked in the alternative answers your fact on the EU is incorrect. –  JamesRyan Sep 27 '13 at 10:53
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Whatever the country, face the oncoming traffic, on their side of the road.

Humans are predisposed to notice faces. You see them, they (so long as they're alert) see you.
Both have more time to react to the other's presence.

On occasion, when approaching a blind corner, especially on country lanes with hedgerows, it may be advisable to move out into the carriageway a little to give oncoming drivers advanced warning of your presence. This also gives you somewhere to go back to if the driver doesn't react quickly enough.

I cannot think of any good reason whatever to have traffic coming up behind you.

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All this sounds quite speculative. In a blind corner, you are not visible, hedgerows or no hedgerows. Wouldn't it make more sense either to cross the road or to be as much as possible out of the way? Also, given the speed at which most cars travel, you would hope to be noticed long before your face can be recognized as a face. Do you have any research/source indicating this makes any difference? –  Relaxed Sep 27 '13 at 16:21
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I will walk on the side of the road with the traffic behind me if the road is narrow, especially with plants growing out into the road space and I notice many cars driving fast or recklessly, especially if I would be hidden around a bend. The other reason is when I'm hitchhiking (-: –  hippietrail Sep 27 '13 at 17:43
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As a general rule of thumb, walk facing the oncoming traffic, both on and off pavement. In India, vehicles are right hand drive and they move through the left side of the road, pedestrians are advised to keep the right side of the road. Hence, specifics depends on your country.

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