10 Safety Fails When Walking after Dark

Your mom has probably already warned you about the hazards of walking after dark, but did they really sink in? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that 70 percent of pedestrian deaths occur after dark. That makes it five times more likely that you will die while walking after dark as dying by getting shot. But, it's still safer than driving or riding in a car. Avoid these late-night walking pitfalls for a safe, calorie-burning walk.

1
Fail: You've Got the Walk Signal, Just Go

Crossing Street at Night
Crossing Street at Night. Scott Matsumoto / EyeEm / Getty Images

If the walk signal is on, you have the full right of way and all vehicles must stop for you or face a ticket. But it isn't wise to trust that they will stop. Often you will find that the walk signal is on, but drivers also have a green light to turn across your path, with or without stopping. Watch for traffic from all directions before and during crossing the street. Catch the eyes of any drivers who want to turn across your path. Give them a wave with a reflective-gloved hand.  Use these night walking safety tips we all should practice.

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2
Fail: Drinking and Walking

Alcohol Bottles
Alcohol Bottles. Wendy Bumgardner ©

To prevent drunk driving, responsible drinkers leave the car keys at home and either use a designated driver, walk, or take public transportation. But 40 percent of all pedestrian fatalities involve pedestrian use of alcohol, with 36 percent of those being above the legal limit for driving. Perhaps you need a sober walking companion to guide you home on foot?

3
Fail: Wearing Dark Clothes

Night Walking Woman
Night Walking. Lorette Kaddour / EyeEm / Getty Images

Basic black is such a slimming color. After dark, blue and red are also too dark for drivers to see and stop in time. If you are wearing black or dark blue, even a car going only 20 mph (32 kph) would not see you in time to brake to a stop. Wear white and you can be spotted in time by those going 40 mph (64 kph). Not that this guarantees they will actually notice you as they drive while texting, but at least basic physics gives you chance to be spotted vs. no chance at all. If you are commuting home, running errands or going out to eat after dark in the winter, switch to a light-colored coat. Parking lots and urban intersections are deathly to these casual pedestrians in the dark. Wear one or more of these night walking visibility items to be safer.

4
Fail: Distracting Yourself with Your Cell Phone

Using a Mobile Cell Phone at Night While Walking
James Whitaker/Digital Vision/Getty

Even before Pokemon Go encouraged even more distracted walking, pedestrian injuries due to tripping or colliding while talking or texting on a cell phone were doubling each year. An Ohio State study found that subjects talking on cell phone were more likely to cross a street unsafely than those wearing an iPod or talking with friend. They also had far poorer recall of objects along their path. Many walkers think that talking on a cell phone somehow makes them less of a target for crime, but it also makes them far less aware of what is going on around them. Alertness is the best way to avoid becoming a victim. Screens down and walk.

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5
Fail: Disdaining Reflective Gear

Reflective Vests at Night
Wendy Bumgardner ©

Wear a reflective vest or other highly reflective material, and even the speedsters going 60 mph (96 kph) can see you in time to stop. Most casual walkers disdain wearing reflective items - it simply doesn't match the rest of their ensemble. But if you are a fitness walker who doesn't have a death wish, you should make a reflective vest and/or reflective clothing part of your walking gear. It's not overkill to wear a hat and pack that have reflective iron-on patches, and pants and jacket that have reflective strips designed into them. Rather than wearing only one small reflective patch, you really need a full outline of reflective piping so drivers know they are looking at a moving human.

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6
Fail: Trusting Your Night Vision

Runner with Headlamp
Cavan Images/Stone/Getty

Have you ever been enjoying a moonlit stroll, savoring the moment, only to step into an unseen pothole and injure yourself? Wearing a headlamp or carrying a flashlight can help you spot road hazards, as well as help oncoming drivers spot you and identify you as something that will damage their paint job if they hit you. You may feel it unnecessary in urban areas that have streetlamps, until you come to an area that lacks them. A flashlight is an essential, and even a small one can save the day. Use these lights for night walking so you can see where you are going.

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7
Fail: Walking in the Street

Walk Crossing Signal at Night
Lidia Camacho/Moment/Getty

All pedestrian safety experts say to use the sidewalk or a path separate from the street rather than walking in the street or bike lane after dark. This is good standard advice. At times the sidewalks also have hazards you might try to avoid by walking in the street instead, such as deep shadows due to streetlamps being blocked by trees, or tripping hazards with tree roots and curbs. Or the street may simply lack sidewalks. When forced to walk in the street, it is best to walk on the same side as oncoming traffic. In the US, that is the left side of the street. If you are walking on a one-way street, choose the one where you are going the opposite direction as traffic.

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8
Fail: Tripping and Falling

Stepping on Banana Peel
Don Bayley/E+/Getty

A whopping 92 percent of older pedestrian fatalities happened when they tripped and fell and then were hit by a car, according to the CDC. Step carefully off the curb or use a flashlight to look for tripping hazards. Give yourself enough time to cross the street so you have a margin for picking yourself up after a fall.

9
Fail: Trusting the Map

Apple Watch Map
Apple Watch Map. Wendy Bumgardner ©

If the map shows you can get there on foot, it's not wise to blindly trust it.. The trail might have had a washout. There may not be a sidewalk on the far side of a highway intersection. The street shown on the map may not actually exist. The route may go through a high-crime area. Use your real-time observations rather than only the map.

10
Fail: Jaywalking

Don't Walk Signal
Don't Walk Signal. © Thinkstock / Stockbyte / Getty

Seventy-eight percent of pedestrian fatalities occur at non-intersection locations. Intersections are dangerous enough places for pedestrians, but safety experts recommend crossing the street only at designated crosswalks. Even then, extra caution is needed after dark.

Sources:

CDC. Pedestrian safety. http://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/pedestrian_safety/index.html.

Department of Transportation (US), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Traffic Safety Facts 2008: Pedestrians. Washington (DC): NHTSA; 2008.

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