If your workouts take you outside, engaging in activities like running, biking, or hiking, chances are you will be on or crossing a roadway at some point. In my 21 years of being a police officer, the number one concern I have every day is being struck by a vehicle while on foot. I’ve had many close calls myself and I’ve seen countless pedestrians and bicyclists injured or killed by vehicles. While vehicular traffic is a definite concern if you will be among cars on a roadway during your chosen activity, you can mitigate the danger.
For bicyclists, if you are riding in the roadway, you are subject to the traffic laws as they apply to motor vehicles. This means riding with traffic, obeying traffic signs, lane markings, and traffic signals, as well as signaling your stops or changes in direction. You are also required to wear a helmet if you are under age 16 (all ages should be wearing a helmet because your head will be the first thing to go over your handlebars). Be aware that some municipalities forbid bicycles being ridden on sidewalks, so check your local laws before planning a ride. For night riding, you must have a white front light and a red rear reflector as minimum equipment. I would strongly suggest supplementing your equipment with some of the safety suggestions for pedestrians below.
If you are on foot during your activity, I’d suggest the following safety considerations.
1. Plan a route that avoids roads if at all possible, stick to pedestrian sidewalks and trails, and if you have to be on a road, choose roads that are less heavily travelled and have slower speeds with long, flat stretches and few hills or turns that allow maximum visibility distance for the driver to see you and for you to see approaching vehicles. Be smart about it. There are some really picturesque routes out there, but not all of them are safe for biking, hiking, or running.
2. If you must walk on a road, wear light colored and/or reflective clothing. Always assume the driver of the approaching vehicle can’t see you, because they likely are not looking for someone walking along the road.
Here’s an example to put the above in perspective. Let’s assume the driver is paying attention to the roadway. On a clear stretch of road, about the maximum distance an attentive driver can detect a pedestrian is about 1000 feet. If this vehicle is driving 60mph, they have 11 seconds to slow or steer clear to avoid hitting you. Now, suppose it’s misting out, and like me, your favorite rain jacket is camouflage. You may have dropped your detectable distance down to just 300 feet. Our attentive driver now has just 3.4 seconds to avoid you. Add in driver distraction, and you can easily see how important it is to be seen from as far away as possible.
3. Walk against traffic if you can, and don’t wear ear buds or anything that will limit your hearing. Don’t text or talk on your phone. I know you’ve laughed at all those videos of people walking into doors, walls, and fountains. This could be you but on the hood of a vehicle. You want to see the vehicle as far out as possible and not be surprised if for some reason you fail to see a vehicle coming up on you.
4. Know your bail out direction and be ready to get out of the roadway in an instant at any time. Be cautious of things like Jersey barriers and bridges. I have a co-worker and a friend who both found out the hard way that there’s not always solid ground immediately on the other side of a wall.
5. As you approach a moving or stopped vehicle, make eye contact with the driver to help assure they’ve seen you. Always assume the driver doesn’t see you, isn’t paying attention, and has no intention of yielding to you. I’ve helped load several pedestrians into ambulances who had the right of way. Who was in the right doesn’t matter at all if you become a hood ornament.
6. Walk with a buddy if you can. Two sets of eyes and ears is better than one and you may have a person who can render aid to you if you are struck. Be prepared to walk single file as traffic conditions dictate.
7. Look all around before crossing a street, especially behind you. Remember, drivers aren’t looking for someone walking; it’s up to you to be the attentive one.
8. As a pedestrian, cross roadways in a crosswalk and obey the pedestrian signals. The crosswalks and signals have all been placed to work in conjunction with traffic lights so to maximize your safety. In the majority of our ped struck collisions, the pedestrian chose to ignore the signals and/or crossed outside of the crosswalk.
9. Be extra careful if you choose to walk or run at night. I’ve been doing a lot of night rucks, as that is often all that fits my schedule. In these situations, I choose local, private neighborhood roads, avoiding major roadways. I choose times of night where traffic is minimal. I try to stay on roads with streetlights and I wear a headlamp and have reflectors and a flashing strobe on the back of my ruck. In addition to all this, I carry a super bright pocket flashlight in my hand that I can quickly activate and shine on myself or flash at a driver, should I need get their attention.
In the daytime too, but especially at night, attention is drawn to movement and light/reflection of light. Reflective bands on your arms, ankles, or shoes will help people see you, as will flashing strobes, headlamps, and handheld lights. You can never have too many sources drawing attention to you.
10. Teach good pedestrian and bicycle safety to your children. Always wait for the signal and cross at crosswalks with them. I hate seeing stupid parents dragging their kids against a stop signal in the path of oncoming traffic. Buy your kids a cool helmet and make sure they wear it while scootering or biking.
As drivers, we can also be better at helping avoid collisions with bicyclists and pedestrians. Give them a wide berth should you need to pass them, and slow down. On most of the military posts I’ve been at, the rule was no faster than 15mph when passing troops on the roadway. If you are driving in an area known for runners or bikers, turn off your distractions and be extra careful when making turns.
The roads are designed for cars, plain and simple. Bikers, hikers, and joggers who choose to partake in their activity in the roadway are at an extreme disadvantage, and the onus is on the pedestrian or bicyclist to exercise safely. For some activities, and some areas, you just can’t avoid being in the roadway. For these locations, adopt the suggestions listed above and you can help minimize the danger.