If you’re an avid runner, you know which side of the road to run on. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Transportation Department both agree that running against traffic is the safest way to run. And there’s research data to prove it.
Researchers in Finland looked at data from car accidents from 2006 to 2010, covering about 2,000 miles and 258 pedestrian accidents. What they found was that pedestrians walking against traffic have, on average, a 77 percent lower risk of being struck and injured by a car. If no pavement or pedestrian lane is available, facing traffic significantly improves pedestrian safety. The reason for this is pretty simple — you can’t react to something you can’t see. Or at least, not until it is too late. If you are facing oncoming traffic, you are better able to react quicker to a distracted driver.
Just as drivers would be wise to practice defensive driving, runners can benefit from practicing “defensive running.” It may sound silly, but it actually makes a lot of sense.
According to the U.S. Transportation Department, there were nearly 3,500 fatalities and 400,000 pedestrian injuries reported in 2015. All of these were due to distracted driving, primarily from people using handheld devices while driving. If you’re going to be sharing the road with drivers, there’s a good chance a few of them might be distracted. So it makes sense if you can’t control your surroundings, at least you can be ready.
So here are a few tips for safe outdoor jogging, walking, skipping, running, etc. during the fall months, if you are so inclined:
- Always use the sidewalk or shoulder, if there is one. This one should be a no-brainer.
- Make eye contact with the oncoming driver so you can see what’s going on behind the wheel. Never assume a driver can see you. In fact, assume the opposite and act accordingly.
- Wear bright, reflective outer layers. Remember that during the fall and winter months, the days are shorter so it gets dark earlier. Those after-work runs at sunset you may have been used to may now be in the pitch-dark. Wearing dark-colored clothing doesn’t help anyone. Neon or “fluorescent” colors are best. Most running shoes have reflective material built into them but, of course, adding more reflective gear to your body increases your visibility to drivers, which is always good.
- Wear a light, preferably one that blinks such as a headlamp or strobe light, even if you’re running during daylight hours.
- Don’t wear earbuds or headphones. This one sounds like a buzzkill but it may just save your life. Use your ears to sense your surroundings. Your ears can help you avoid dangers on the road that your eyes may miss during evening or early morning runs. Headphones can cause inattentional blindness — the inability to notice unexpected objects even when they might be right in front of you. The cognitive function that you use to listen to music takes away from the more important cognitive function of seeing cars approach. If you can’t go without headphones, at least turn the volume down enough or leave one earbud out to be able to hear what’s going on around you.
- Use hand signals to show which way you plan to turn.
- Look both ways before crossing. Be sure the driver of the car acknowledges your right-of-way before crossing in front of a vehicle. Obey traffic signals.
- Practice memorizing license plates or identifying characteristics of strangers. It may come in handy someday.
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