Safety Tips for Runners and Walkers

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Two weeks ago while I was out for a 5 mile run on a busy street in my neighborhood, I saw another runner coming at me approximately 75 feet ahead. While I was running facing the traffic, she was running with the flow of traffic. In my 3 years of running I have always run against the flow of traffic--the reason, I want to see the driver, just in case the driver does not see me; at least this gives me the opportunity to jump out of the way.

As fate would have it, a car coming at a fairly high rate of speed for a residential street, was making a bee-line right for the other runner. I was screaming at her to jump the curb. Thankfully she did and avoided getting hit, but the driver had no clue what could have happened, she was too busy on her cell phone and was not paying attention. Let me tell you, there were two runners quite shaken up. She picked herself up and I picked up my heart.

While I spent the better part of the next 3 miles thinking, I realized I have made many mistakes while running on the roads and thought I would share a few tips to make us all safer runners and walkers.

  • Map out your route: I am fortunate to have a Garmin Forerunner 405 with GPS but after this incident it dawned on me that while I knew where I was going, my husband would have no clue. If something happened to me, he would have no idea where to even begin to look for me if I did not return home. Therefore, from now on I am going to be using the SparkPeople’s Fitness Maps, to map out my intended route and leave a copy with him just in case.

  • Bring a cell phone: Thankfully, I have never had to use mine, but one never knows. In an age where pay phones are few and far between and businesses are reluctant to let you use their phones, it is always a good idea to carry one with you in case of trouble.

  • Identification: Whether you carry your driver’s license in your pocket or wear a Road ID make sure you carry some form of ID on your person just in case you are rendered unconscious.

  • Run/Walk against the flow of traffic: As I mentioned earlier, I would much rather see a car then an inattentive driver not seeing me. In an age where people do everything in their car except drive sometimes, you must be on the defensive if you must run or walk in the street.

  • Dogs: While I have yet to encounter any vicious dogs on my runs, I have learned that the best thing to do if approached by one is to stop running/walking. A dog will be able to outrun a walker or runner any time so it is best to slowly back up away from the dog. Try to put something between you and the dog. If you have access to a stick or rock that may be a deterrent. And as a last resort, drop to the ground and curl up in a ball making sure you cover your face and head.

  • Wear Reflective Gear: Wearing some form of reflective gear, whether a hat, jacket, shirt, or button, especially at night or at dusk/dawn, allows others to visibly see you more easily. Anytime you can make yourself visible allows for better safety.

    Remember, always put your safety first. This will allow you to keep on walking and running for a long time to come.

    Have you ever encountered any dangerous situations on your runs/walks? How did you handle them? Do you have any other tips to offer?

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    As a child over 50 years ago I was taught to walk facing traffic and ride my bike with traffic. I have always done this and would never think of doing it any other way. I also do not listen to music when I walk because I want to be aware of everything that is happening aroud me. Report
    Nancy, Thanks for the tips! I just started running this year. I used to do alot of biking, so it was a transtion for me to run aginst the traffic. I still feel uncomfortable running on public streets/sidewalks because of the instances you describe. I have not had any near misses, but still cringe every time a car OR a truck come whizzing at me then past me like they did not see me. As boring as it is I have taken up running on my treadmill. I feel safer and its a more controlled enviroment. I am an advid hiker, so I might transtion to trail running so I dont have to worry about the traffic. I will definatly make sure to have a cell phone and a copy of my route for others to see where I am at. Report
    I've had more than one dog frighten me - but I have learned to stop and talk to the dog, walk slowly by and begin my run after I'm past the dog. People letting their dogs run loose is one of my pet peeves!

    ~Nancy Report
    Thank your for this very timely blog entry as I have just started running! I needed to hear this. Report
    At least while I'm running in the pool I don't think I'll face any of these problems. Report
    Lots of great comments & suggestions here. I never leave home without my ID and cell phone. In addition, I'd like to add that your cell phone should be programed with an "ICE" number. ICE= In Case of Emergency; all law enforcement and rescuers are being trained to check cell phones for this number. Simply input "ICE" under contacts, then insert the # of that person that you wish to be called. Just another safety tip! Report
    This is a great article - I just ordered the RoadID - I try to be safe and I think this will increase that safety for me. I try to inform someone of where I am going but I am not always very good at this. This article makes me more aware - thanks Report
    I always run against the flow of traffic. To me its a no brainer! Report
    I agree, I walk and ride my bike a lot and always go against traffic also. I want to see what is coming towards me just in case I need to get out of the way. I live on a road that has actually seen a couple of fatalities because of people riding their bikes with the traffic. It's a very sad lesson. Report
    Biking with traffic: Yes, it's the law everywhere I've lived. One way to keep an eye out, though, is to get a "rear view" mirror. You can attach them on to your bike or onto your helmet.

    RoadID = great!
    I have also heard not to listen to music or ear plugs while outside walking/running so you can hear your surroundings. Great article, I'm happy y'all are both OK. I have always told my husband exactly where I'm going even if it is on errands. Report
    Even though I have never been confronted, I always walk with a stick when I walk through the park. Just in case I meet a roving dog, I want to have some kind of protection. Report
    Last year I was walking at lunch, by myself and was on a back road behind our clinic at the end of my 2nd mile. I heard a car coming up behind me and it slowed down. It stopped beside me, a man got out, leaving his car running, the door open and started quickly toward me. We were only about 10 feet apart so he could easily have asked me a question from his car if he wanted to. Luckily, we heard a car coming from the other direction and he turned, ran to his car, jumped it and took off. I was going to get a license plate number and then realized the plate was completely covered by mud. His car had NO mud on it at all. I got back to work and called the police. They couldn't do anything about him coming toward me but said that obscured plates is against the law and they could put out a notice to be on the look out for him for that. Never heard anything about it but now I never walk at work unless I have someone with me. I also carry my cell phone and pepper spray in my pockets. Even the police said I was very lucky. Report
    I constantly see people when i am out running using iPods and twice I have stopped someone form being hit by a car as they crossed the road. They checked before they started but were not staying alert and couldn't hear because the music was too loud when a car driving way too fast came around the corner. So keep the volume to a resaonalbe level and always stay alert and facing the on coming traffic when near the road. Report
    Once a pit bull frightened me; he was tied up but his stance and look gave me the chills. I walked by briskly and would not look back. Report
    We should always be prepared! Report
    with individual dogs, it helps to slow to a walk, walk confidently, and do NOT make eye contact with the dog, which to them is a sign of YOUR aggression. The more confident and less nervous you act, and the more in control of your space you seem, the less likely you are to be attacked by a single dog Report
    Thank you for the great advice. My DH and I wear Road ID and we always carry cell phones. He rides a bike and has had several encounters with inattentive drivers. He now tells me where he's going and when we walk we're aware of the cars around us. Report
    I am lucky to live in NYC where you can walk anywhere. Sidewalks are everywhere and can take you to the parks. The only vehicles I encounter are the gators that the park gardeners use for garden work--hauling and such. I think we are better off than those in the suburbs where sidewalks are limited. Report
    I've been bitten by a dog when running on the side walk. He was leashed but that didn't stop him. Funny, I thought I'd be safer on the sidewalk away from traffic.

    Raylin-If you are cycling you DEFINATELY should be riding WITH traffic if you are ON the road. You're considered a moving vehicle like Jan stated... even if you aren't clocking speeds upward of 20mph. Becareful, I hope you wear a helmet. Report
    Great topic! I walk on sidewalks or a dedicated walk/bike path, with my music low enough that I stay aware of what's around me, and wear a Road ID. These are not expensive and they give contact information for next-of-kin and your name, not just your id. As someone who lives alone, if something happened to me and I was unconscious, knowing who I am and where I live wouldn't help medical care providers. I also carry my cell phone, water, and a snack. Report
    Good reminders!
    My worst experience ever while walking was when 3 dogs attacked as a pack. I've never been so afraid in my life. They created a half circle around me, and my back was to the rural country ditch. I alternately lunged / swung at them before they lunged at me. It took a bit, but they eventually backed down enough for me to escape. (There is such a difference between one dog and several dogs!)
    Another time, I saw an older neighbor man confront a dog that was going after him by acting offensively. He hollered, yelled, growled, and menacingly moved toward the dog. Since he was taller / bigger, the dog backed off.
    Not sure what this says about animal psychology, but I consider it as part of my recourse with one-on-one with an animal. Report
    Two points to re-inforce - make sure you can hear other things if you are using earphones - I've seen a 1/2 marathon runner nearly hit by the motorcycle escort for the marathon wheelchair runner - she didn't hear the motorcycle, horn, or people yelling until it was only about 30 feet from her.

    Your ID should include who to call - just carrying your driver's license doesn't give emergency contact info to the people who find you if there's been an accident. I've got road IDs in several forms and they have held up very well. Report
    Ooops forgot - if you are on a multi purpose path and MUST use your iPod or MP3 player - please keep it at a level so you can her the cyclists announcing ... if they don't announce - tell them to. It serves as keeping everyone unharmed. If I come flying 20-22 mph on my bike - I am likely to be hurt more than you as a runner. Report
    RAYLINSTEPHENS - (I am an avid cyclist) I appreciate what you say, but when you are on a bike, you are considered a vehicle in all states, thus cannot ride against traffic, but it is against the law.

    One item I am missing is pepper spray (where it is legal) for two and four legged 'dangers'.

    Preferably don't run alone!!! Also, let someone know where you are running and when you will be home (i.e. text message when you get home or to your destination).

    Maybe I over looked it, but noone mentioned the fabulous Road ID tags you can wear on your shoe, wrist or ankle. I am slowly getting them for my family members who ride, walk, hike and run. They are reasonably priced and you can put your personal info on them so you don't have to bring your id with you when you exercise. Here is the link:
    I have always biked and walked against traffic for the same reason.

    Back in Brooklyn NY, I was the last in line riding with traffic as the law demands and I saw one car swerve in towards every single biker in the line. That was enough for me!

    Now I can jump off if I must but by golly I will try hard not to be hit! For the same reasons I will only ever walk against traffic.

    In drivers ed I was taught that drivers will look at the walker/runner/biker and not even know they are steering into them just because they are watching them.

    It's scary out there people. Report
    Hi As I read your blog you did not mention bring water, and a runing buddy. Also If one has a medical condition like diabetes. A snack and thier meters. I exericse in the pool I bring my stuff I might need in case I have low glucose levels. If you don't have a good road to walk or run on get to a high school track to run or walk on. Report
    I try to run on the sidewalks whenever and where ever I can. I run in the morning when there is little to no traffic. However, the drivers in my area are awful. You have to watch yourself because they do drive like maniacs. They don't obey traffic lights. I can't tell you how many people I see running a red light just because no one else is around.

    It's awful. I am always aware of my surrounds. I'll admit that I really should run with a cell phone.

    Good advice! I've been already doing some of those things, but I got some new ideas to be safer. Also, I put my phone, keys, and i.d. in a belt pack, clip a bottle of water to it so I can stay hydrated, and carry a paradol sometimes in sunny weather (in addition to wearing sunscreen). Just be aware of what is around you outside of the parasol. I used to see another walker who was reading while he walked. I would be afraid of walking in front of a car or stepping off a curb badly. Not a good idea.
    I live in the country where we dont even have shoulders on some part of the road and it has a lot of curves, not to mention some dog packs and an occasional bobcat so walking out side is a big no! I luckly have a lot of my own gym equipment so I dont need to go out, but I do miss the outdoors.
    I have come acrossed many runners/walkers that dont have much common sense and it worries me. We do have many walking trails in the areas so I would think they could drive to them and then walk it would be so much safer. Report
    I have to say, although I always walked against traffic, I didn't grasp how frustrating it was for others when people DON'T do that until I started biking regularly.

    On the bike path, it seems like only about 2/3 of people walk on the correct side, FACING bike traffic. Someone on foot can see what's coming, won't get surprised by people passing them at high speeds, and can shift a little out of the way if possible so that it's easier for other traffic to pass. But where there are people walking in the same direction on BOTH sides, it's really dangerous.

    Someone earlier mentioned that they didn't like bikers passing them fast, but keep in mind that if you were facing traffic, they wouldn't be passing you, and you would have seen them coming if they are. I have a bell on my bike just to warn people that I'm passing them, but most bikes don't come with bells anymore. Report
    I was out walking on my lunch break yesterday, and had a bicycle come whooshing past me on the path. A quick "on your left" would have been so nice, instead of jumping out of my skin when he came past. I always try to let others know when I'm coming up on them.
    I learned my lesson with Dogs last night. A woman was walking her dog with a long lead, and instead of reeling it in, she actually let it out and allowed the dog to get close enough to sniff my leg as I ran past. It could have just as easily taken a nip out of my calf as sniff me with that cold nose. I was pretty shocked, but will now stop and let any dog not under good control pass me by before continuing my run. Report
    Great to see you mention the importance of walking or running against the flow of the traffic - I remember my mum teaching me that when I was little and it's such a vital tip! Really enjoyed reading this blog post - so much useful advice, thank you! xx Report
    Here's my tip:

    NEVER wear headphones and listen to music while you are running in/near traffic. This is a safety hazard to yourself. It's OK to listen to music if you're running on a track or on the treadmill, but when running in/near traffic, you need to have ALL your senses about you.

    Thanks so much for the tips in the blog! They raised some points I never thought about (mapping my route and leaving it with a loved one, carrying ID, and carrying a cell phone). Report
    I see people all the time with there pm3 players or i pods in and do not have a clue that there are cars coming at them.. If you need your music do not run on the road were you can be hit by cars.. I have seen people almost get hit also and it is scary!!! Report
    I usually take my walks at a local lake that has a nice road all the way around. Very little traffic to worry about and slow moving if any. My biggest concern I have faced was this morning's walk when I encountered the pair of Canadian Geese who have 7 beautiful little goslings. I have seen them before and enjoyed, but they always ignored me. This time, they were right by the road and one of them looked very menacing, watching my every step. Hmmmm, I wondered what in the world I would do if he decided a was a threat to his little family as I have heard that they can be fierce. I just kept walking and went to the other side of the road. He kept his beady eye on me until I was about 50 feet away. I had nothing for protection, not sure what I would have done. I don't like walking along the highway because of danger and also the slant of the road for water runoff hurts my ankles. I love having this little lake nearby to walk. Report
    Thanks for this blog, very good reminder.

    I try to keep my walking routes to where there are sidewalks, even on the sidewalk I try walking facing traffic. I run in a park.

    Even staying on sidewalks, cars making a right hand turn seldem look left so they don't see walkers. I never assume they see me, I assume they do not. I have had some close calls. I also carry pepper spray, mainly because of 4 legged threats, but it would also be great for 2 legged predators.

    Be alert to your surrounding never never assume you have been seen.
    Stay safe. Report
    I bike everywhere this time of year, and am amazed at the number of people outside running, walking and biking with their earbuds in. It is important to hear what is going on around you. I had a roller blader pull out in front of me because she did not hear my bell, music too loud. Let's all be more considerate of each other and the world will be safer. Report
    Very good blog information! Once I had to jump out of the way on a sharp turn up a country road because I was so enjoying my iPod music and didn't even hear the truck coming. I think it scared us both. My husband made me a walking stick from a willow branch. It has come in handy to take the pressure off my bad right hip and I fully intend to use it to shoo away any dog that comes after me. One neighbor asked if i was going to herd sheep because it looks life a staff for sure. My staff and my iPod, they comfort me while walking!! Report
    I walk a canal with a variety of wildlife and I carry a water gun for the agressive squirrels who have attacked people before. As for the rest of the wildlife, leave them alone and they will let you alone. Report
    Ride on the Right, Walk on the Left. I learned that in elementary school about 100 years ago... One of the few things I remember, but for some reason, that always stuck in my head. Report
    Because of heavy traffic (and no sidewalks) near where I live, I usually head for a local park to walk. But even here I take precautions and only walk on very public paths if I am walking alone. There is one lovely walk through the woods that my dog and I used to take (I will go more places if I have him along) until a friend of mine reported going on the same short hike, only to find a naked man getting ready for a swim where the path veers near the river! I guess cars aren't the only "danger" out there! Report
    This is the exact reason (or at least a darn good one of MANY) that I have been telling my "other half" why I NEED a treadmill at home. Granted, the scenery is nicer and the clean air and all, but incidents like this one, stray dogs in my neighborhood and busy streets where cars FLY up and down when the speed limit is posted "20 miles per hour"... but living in a small city, with ONE policeman... no thanks.
    I am glad this story had a happy ending... but this world, is getting worse and some people just don't care or look out for others. Shame.
    Thanks for the article. Report
    Thank you for the information.
    I live on a main road in my area, so I typically walk up town if I want to walk outside.
    I've been fortunate not to have had problems while walking, running, or biking. I always mean to carry a phone, but occasionally I forget it. I bought a whistle recently. One of the guest speakers for my runners' training program recommended it. Another thing our local Road Runners' Club stresses heavily is not walking/running with headphones on. Music can definitely help your workout at the gym, but people who wear them while exercising outdoors tend to be less aware of their surroundings .
    Janet Report
    Great suggestions, all! I too, have long walked against traffic the very reason you noted.

    Thanks much!

    Lisa Report
    Thanks Nancy! I'm amazed at predawn runners who run with no reflective gear except that on their shoes. I could barely see one couple in a nearby park when I drove past, and I was looking to see who else was crazy enough to run at 5:30 in the morning. LOL

    Great tips!!! Report
    I live in the country where the only place to walk is in the road. I have been taught from wee little that you ride with traffic and walk against traffic. I really don't like to even ride with the traffic but that is the rules of the rode-at least here in Ohio it is.
    I always have my cell phone, DL and walking stick when I go for a walk- I al trying to find a way to take the walking stick with me when I ride too because you never know when you will need it for safety. People in the country tend to let their dogs just run loose so you never know when one will come running at you. Report
    great advice, also maybe carry light weights if you live in a neighborhood that, they are good for your arms and could be a good safety weapon if someone bothers you. Report