Betty Sarratt of Burke writes, "Your article about your wife's 'close encounter' with a passing motorist at night brought to mind an accident that happened to my husband in broad daylight.
"He was jogging on Shiplett road in Burke when a Volkswagen passed between him and the curb. It's hard to say what the driver had in mind since Shiplett is about 90 feet wide. My husband was furious."
I have listened to a lot of discussion about joggers. Mrs. Sarratt, but I don't think I can offer any answers.
I have received many complaints from joggers and bicyclists, and have asked some of them to explain the hostility they encounter. Their answers have varied.
Even before jogging became popular, bicycle riders were being harassed. People called out insults to them and occasionally threw drink cans and other objects at them. Motorists sometimes tried to see how close they could come without actually hitting the cyclist. "They approach from the rear in silence," one bicyclist told me, "and then give you a blast of the horn when they're six feet behind you. It's enough to make you jump out of your seat."
When jogging became popular, joggers began filing harassment complaints that were similar to those I have received from bicycle riders but somewhat more bitter.
One friend of mine runs to and from work on most days - and in his case the verb is run, not jog. He thinks most of the remarks from motorists and pedestrians are really not intended to be mean as they sound."They're just good-humored wisecracks," he says, "and shouldn't be taken too seriously. In some cases, I suspect, the heckler is a little jealous that somebody is doing something he can't do, and so he feels he has to make a comment that's a 'put-down.' On rare occasions we do have some close calls when a car appears to be trying to run us down. It doesn't happen often, thank goodness, but we have to face the fact there are a few sick people out there on the streets. No question about it."
A jogger to whom I showed Mrs. Sarratt's letter made this comment: "I think the Volkswagen driver was trying to get a message to this lady's husband. He was trying to say, 'You're too far out into the roadway to suit me. See, there's room enough for me to drive between you and the curb.' That may seem to you and me to be a pretty rotten way to deliver a message, but that's what I think was involved."
A physical scientist who jogs gave me this comment: "My doctorate isn't in psychiatry, but I've read a lot, and since I've been jogging I have developed a theory about bizarre conduct toward joggers.
"People are afraid of anything that's new, whether it's a person they've just met or a new idea. Their instantaneous and automatic reaction is to reject a new concept. They have a compulsion to express their disapproval, and they express it in many ways. Some people just shout insults, some throw beer cans, some actually endanger the jogger by driving too close to him or cutting him off or blowing their horn. In the winter, kids pelt me with snowballs. When a storm leaves tree branches scattered on the ground, teen-agers pick them up as I approach and toss them in front of me to try to trip me. I think the reason for all this is that a lot of people border being mentally ill, and when they see something new that disturbs them, it pushes them over the line."
As I said at the outset, Mrs. Sarratt, I have listened to a lot of discussion about this issue, but I don't think I can offer any answers. Traffic safety officials have done some educational work to establish the bicyclist's rights and responsibilities, but I have seen little publicity about the rights and responsibilities of the jogger. Perhaps that might help.