I love skating the open road. It allows me to go almost anywhere while exploring the endless possibilities of inline skating.
But it's not without its perils. In fact, it can be downright dangerous.
Most drivers know how to share the road — with cyclists, at least. But many have no clue how to behave around skaters.
With that in mind, here's my advice on how to stay safe while skating on roads:
Watch your stride
Because of our push to the side, skaters take up more road than cyclists. That can make for close calls between cars and feet.
So be proactive. When you hear a car approaching from behind, stand taller in your skates and shorten your push. If you are going downhill, stop pushing all together and roll.
Signal your turns
Before you make a turn, stand tall, look back and point in the direction of your turn. I find that drivers respond well to this and keep a safe distance.
Use all your senses
Don't be a skate zombie. Keep actively aware of your surroundings. Look back. Look to the side. Look ahead.
Always listen for approaching cars. Listening to music can enhance your workout. But take care. If the volume is high, you won't be able to hear what is happening around you. Keep the volume low enough that it doesn't dull your perception of traffic.
Pick your routes
Don't skate past a church at 10 a.m. on Sunday or by a school as the children are getting out for the day. Both are recipes for traffic.
Pick low-traffic routes at low-traffic times of the day. And have a backup plan.
I often skate a 5K loop in my neighborhood. But between 3:10 and 3:25 p.m., I alter my route to avoid a school zone that is clogged with buses, parents picking up their kids, crossing guards, delivery trucks, etc.
Also avoid routes with cracked pavement and debris, such as rocks, sticks and gravel. These things could make you fall, which is not safe to do when you are in traffic!
Here are some things to consider when picking a route:
▪ Traffic volume
▪ Quality of the road surface
▪ Width of road
▪ Speed limit (the lower, the safer)
▪ Number of stop signs and traffic lights
Wear bright colored clothes. This makes it easier for drivers to spot you. And at night or hours of reduced light (dusk and dawn), wear lights! Don't go out on the road without lights (blinking and otherwise, front and back) that can easily be spotted by drivers a long distance away. You’re better off looking silly than getting flattened!
Keep your cool
Drivers can do some pretty rude things out there, whether intentional or not. But no matter what happens, be cool. Resist the temptation to insult drivers or kick their cars. Remember you represent the sport. And also keep in mind that drivers who are otherwise nice people sometimes make bad choices. And as for not-so-nice drivers, you're better off standing down than having them hunt you down.
Take extra care in these situations:
▪ Turning left — If a car tries to pass you while you’re turning, you’re toast.
▪ Going through lights and stop signs — Don't be so sure the cross-traffic is going to stop. Some drivers run lights intentionally. Others don't seem to notice them.
▪ Skating by mall entrances or exits — This is a danger zone. Shoppers often seem oblivious when pulling in or out of shopping malls. Be extra careful.
▪ Cars turning right — Apparently, drivers think that once they pass a skater, he/she doesn't exist anymore. The proof of this is how drivers make right turns in front of skaters cutting them off. This happens to me on a regular basis. They pass me, then immediately turn right, forcing me to take evasive action.
▪ Cars turning left — This may be even more dangerous. Cars turning left sometimes misjudge the speed of skaters (or don't see them at all) and turn into them.
Be smart. It takes two to tango. Do your part to stay safe.
Peter Doucet is a veteran speed skater and the webmaster of Speed Skate World. A resident of Mississauga, Ontario, he has represented Canada in seven World Championships and at the 2007 Pan American Games in Brazil. He founded the Toronto International Inline Race Weekend and the RSO Speed Points Series. He is also a coach of the Toronto Inline Skating Club. His hobbies include writing and performing music, cycling, watching movies, going out with friends, and cooking.