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10 Ways to Get Killed When Walking After Dark

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Updated May 31, 2014

My mother is appalled that I ever go out of the house after dark, let alone walking for fitness after dark. With her cautions and pedestrian death statistics, I know of many ways to get killed walking after dark. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that 70% 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. Of course, you might get shot while walking after dark. It's still safer than driving or riding in a car.

1. Drink and Walk

Alcohol Bottles
Wendy Bumgardner © 2012

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% of all pedestrian fatalities involve pedestrian use of alcohol, with 36% of those being above the legal limit for driving. Perhaps you need a sober walking companion to guide you home on foot?

2. You've Got the Walk Signal, Just Go

Glo Glov reflective safety gloves
Wendy Bumgardner

If the walk signal is on, you have the full right of way and all vehicles must stop for you or face a ticket. If that is your attitude, have your gravestone engraved, "But I had the Walk Signal!" 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. I give them a wave with my reflective-gloved hand. They are often amazed that somebody other than an airport gate signaler owns such items.
More: Night Walking Safety Tips

3. Dark Colors are So Slimming

Night Walking Legs
Wendy Bumgardner © 2010

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.
More: Night Walking Visibility

4. Reflective Gear Is So Garish

Be reflective for night walking
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. I 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.
Top Picks for Reflective Gear

5. Trust Your Night Vision

Panther Vision Hat
Wendy Bumgardner ©
My favorite walking memory is walking at night on a deserted road in a rural area with only the stars to light my way and my night vision to guide me. And then I stepped into an unseen pothole and almost broke my ankle. 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 one of my essentials, even a small one has saved me at times.
Lights for Night Walking

6. The Street is as Good as the Sidewalk

Street Corner at Night
Wendy Bumgardner ©

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.
Walking Safety Rules

7. Have a Nice Fall

Branches Across Trail
Wendy Bumgardner © 2010

A whopping 92% of older pedestrian fatalities happened when they tripped and fell and then were hit by a car, according to the CDC. If you have a death wish, do not step carefully off the curb or use a flashlight to look for tripping hazards. And don't worry about giving yourself enough time to cross the street so you have a margin for picking yourself up after a fall.
CDC Pedestrian Safety Fact Sheet

8. Jaywalking is Convenient

Don't Walk Sign
Wendy Bumgardner © 2010

You're more likely to become a pedestrian fatality if you cross the street at any old place -- 78% 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.
In Defense of Jaywalking

9. Distract Yourself with Your Cell Phone

Blackberry Cell Phone
Wendy Bumgardner ©

Pedestrian injuries due to tripping or colliding while talking or texting on a cell phone have been doubling each year, according to a New York Times article in 2010. 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. Hang up and walk.
NYT: Walking and Using the Cell Phone is Risky

10. Trust the Map

GPS Map on Cell Phone
Wendy Bumgardner &copy:

If the map shows you can get there on foot, just blindly trust it. Never mind that the trail might have had a washout. Or that your assumption that there is a sidewalk on the far side of a highway intersection is wrong. Or that the street shown on the map doesn't actually exist. Or that it is sending you through a high-crime area. Just navigate based on the map and not your real-time observations. Then your survivors can sue the mapmaker or online map provider when you are dead wrong.
Woman Sues Google Maps Over Walking Directions

Source: Traffic Safety Facts 2008 Data: Pedestrians

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

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