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Roads’ silent killers provide a new threat to runners

Like all the best villians they creep up without warning. Seconds later, their deadly effect has been suffered.

As sudden and unexpected as we see in the movies, or in the endless succession of gory TV dramas. Or read in the plethora of crime fiction.

It’s all over before the victim  has time to sense there is danger in the air, the garotte has been tightened or the knife thrust hard into the ribs and given a vicious twist.

Or some other bloody ending  has been rendered. Like a speeding car hurtling out of nowhere towards the unsuspecting victim.

Just as in real life as we dice daily with death out there on our roads, where the car is often the weapon; sometimes of choice or, too frequently,  in the hands of a mobile-distracted driver.

All too often the victim is a runner (or jogger for those who prefer the more derogatory descriptive).  Whether in reality or in fiction it  is unsuspecting runners who are brought to a sudden end by a car transformed into a deadly weapon.

The most recent figures  claim there were 376 “pedestrian” deaths in 2022 as the result of  “a road incident”. This was an increase of 15 on the previous year.

A pedestrian is neither defined nor categorised. But clearly runners, joggers and walkers should avoid sharing the roads with motorised deadly weapons whenever possible.

Especially as this statistic is concerned only with fatalities.

No mention is made of the hundreds (thousands?) who are maimed, cut, bruised, fractured and otherwise injured (mentally as well as physically).

Easier said than done if we runners want to escape the urban streetscape and enjoy the wide open spaces beyond.  There, the risks are multiplied.

Off-road tracks are hard to locate. Or gated and barred. Or massively churned up and impassible.

The countryside – where “the rolling English drunkard made the rolling English roads”** – are a scenic delight, revelled in by hikers, ramblers and runners alike.

Generally all is  well. Provided one is ever alert for the sound of  vehicles approaching from the rear or lurking around the next narrow bend.

The rural silence is then  sadly, yet also fortunately, broken. We are alerted by the engine noise of a vehicle wishing to share our section of this “reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire.”**

Time enough to squeeze as far to one side as possible without incurring stings, cuts and scratches from nettles, hawthorns and suchlike.

These narrow twisting lanes offer scarce space for even a solo runner and an overtaking car to travel side by side.

As for those grotesque “Chelsea tractors”, their drivers are as likely to force you into the thorny, prickly hedgerow as to slow down and ease past.

“A merry road, a mazy road “** is transformed instantly into a danger zone.

All the more so if the driver is peering at a satnav, diverted by the view or simply driving at a speed ill-suited to roads meant for horse and cart.

And now we have the whispering wheels of electric cars. Not a sound is heard until their drivers give a blast of the horn when mere inches away.

The runner’s heart rate soars in seconds. They stagger sideways, forward, every which way. At risk of torn muscle, twisted ankle, wrenched tendon. Nerves shattered.

The joyful, calming, other worldly serenity of a country jaunt shattered in micro seconds.

These rubber-soled assassins are proliferating.  Labelled as EVs, initialised shorthand for Evil Villains.

Runners beware. And there is worse to come. Driverless “smart” vehicles are soon to be unleashed from parking lots and car showrooms.

Recent history has shown that anything labelled as “smart” is anything but. Smart meters, smart motorways, smart cards, smart TVs – they have provided a litany of failure, breakdowns, disaster and even death.

So much for all the campaigns about safe driving and keeping death off our roads.  Statistics show they have had little effect.

But surely the solution is not now to let loose mechanical battalions of silent or driverless machines.

Armageddon awaits. Runners, head for the trails, hills and fells. The death knell of road running is soon to be sounded.



**Extracts from The Rolling English Road. Source: The Collected Poems of G. K. Chesterton (1927)
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