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Road Rules: 9 Key Safety Tips Runners Should Know

October is National Pedestrian Safety Month, but for runners, it’s top priority year-round.

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It’s not lost on runners how important it is to have access to safe streets and sidewalks while training. Running is hard enough without having to worry if the cars going much faster than you are going to follow the rules of the road. At best, a driver blasting through a stop sign could mean an elevated heart rate and a twisted ankle from jumping back on the curb. At worst, it could kill you.

Pedestrian fatalities as a whole increased nearly five percent in 2020, despite the fact that there were fewer cars on the road during the pandemic. 

That increase equates to 6,412 people, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Kristen Brookshire, a research associate at the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center, thinks that’s thousands too many. Cities that have made a commitment to Vision Zero are setting the example for pedestrian safety, she says.  

“Vision Zero is the idea that zero is the only acceptable number of roadway fatalities and serious injuries,” she says. Brookshire doesn’t believe we have to accept that thousands of people die on American roads every year. “It’s really trying to reframe the conversation and help professionals and the public think about, you know, what can we do to make sure this isn’t the reality and recognize that traffic fatalities are a public health crisis.”

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Keeping Safe on the Run

According to the National Road Safety Foundation, here are nine ways to set out on foot safely:

  1. Follow the rules of the road. 
  2. Run on sidewalks when available.
  3. If there is no sidewalk, run facing traffic and as far from traffic as possible. 
  4. Keep alert at all times. Don’t be distracted by electronic devices that take your eyes or ears off the road. 
  5. Cross streets at crosswalks or intersections, where drivers expect pedestrians. Look for cars in all directions, including those turning left or right.
  6. If a crosswalk or intersection is not available, locate a well-lit area where you have the best view of traffic. Wait for a gap in traffic that allows enough time to cross safely; continue watching for traffic as you cross.
  7. Never assume a driver sees you. Make eye contact with drivers as they approach to make sure you are seen.
  8. Be visible at all times. Wear bright clothing during the day, and wear reflective materials or use a headlamp at night.
  9. Watch for cars entering or exiting driveways or backing up in parking lots. 

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Road Safety Goes Beyond Personal Responsibility

Even if you’re doing everything right while you’re out on your run, we all know that personal responsibility only goes so far. “Individual safety, that’s kind of like the least effective but the most immediate thing that you can do,” says Brookshire. Not that she would ever tell anyone to ignore that guidance. 

But in addition, it is solving the root causes of traffic collisions that will make the biggest difference in protecting pedestrians. Those causes include fast driving speeds, poor crosswalk infrastructure, road design, distracted driving, even car design, to name a few. 

Brookshire recognizes that this is a major undertaking, especially when traffic and congestion is a top complaint in communities, politicians aren’t likely to advocate for slowing things down. “It’s hard to imagine this alternative reality where we heavily invest in walking and bicycling in transit infrastructure,” she says. It would require prioritizing safety over speed. 

If you’re interested in getting involved in advocating for bigger changes, Brookshire says you don’t need to start from scratch. There are likely already groups in your community that you can join. The National Center for Safe Routes to School or AARP aim to help vulnerable populations of pedestrians on either side of the age spectrum. America Walks and the National Complete Streets Coalition are two organizations that advocate for pedestrian accessibility particularly in underserved areas.

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