Street Safety Tips for Walkers

Walker Threatened by Disc Golf Statue
Walker Threatened?. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Many walkers fear being attacked or mugged by a stranger. You need to "look forward to being attacked."

Preventing Attacks

There is no technique or tip or weapon to guarantee you won't be attacked. If you have been attacked, and you are reading this, you did the right thing - whatever you did allowed you to survive. You won. The bad guys have surprise on their side and even the best martial arts expert can become a target. If it happens to you, don't agonize over coulda-shoulda-woulda. You survived. You won.

Walking Routes for Safety

  • Walk indoors: Treadmills are an option for those who do not have a place to walk they consider to be safe. Some sports facilities have indoor tracks as well. Use the further tips below to stay safe in the parking lot or to and from your home.
  • High pedestrian traffic areas: Bad guys don't want witnesses. Being in view of a well-traveled vehicular street is good, but having people on the path with you is better.
  • Open areas: Paths lined with bushes and trees are pleasant for walking but afford many hiding places for the bad guys and places they can take you to finish their crimes out of view.

Deterrents to Attacks

Strangers aren't out to attack YOU. It is nothing personal, they are just looking for a target of opportunity. Your goal, therefore, is to look like somebody who will be too much trouble to mess with. They also want to make you their victim without attracting attention from others.

  • Attitude: Keep your head up and striding purposefully. Look aware of your surroundings and be aware of them, don't text and walk. Headphones may give the impression that you are less aware. Lt. Jim Bullard suggests your mental attitude should be, "No low life scum is going to spoil three minutes of my day!"
  • Companions: Walking with a friend or group reduces your chance of attack significantly.
  • Dog: Walking with a dog, even a little ankle-biter, will greatly reduce the chance of attack. Obey all licensing, leash, and doo-doo ordinances in the jurisdiction you are walking through.
  • Stick: Why mess with somebody with a walking/hiking stick when there are lots of people without one? Top Picks for Hiking Sticks
  • Alarm or Alarm App: A brightly colored personal body alarm can be a deterrent when visibly worn. Bad guys don't want to attract attention. A whistle is also a good signal device. There are also mobile apps that sound an alarm and/or call 911 when pressed.
  • Pepper spray: Where legal, carrying this in your hand or visibly displayed may be a deterrent. More: Personal Safety Gear
  • Mobile phone: Our phones can do a lot for us, including personal alarm apps and Call 911 apps. Some feel reassured if they chat with a friend on the phone while walking. I suppose they think they can report any suspicious behavior to their friend, who can call the police if anything goes wrong. I believe that is false security and, even more, a distraction from actively observing what's going on where you are walking. Like distracted driving, distracted walking is dangerous.

When accosted
As I said above, there is no guaranteed way to prevent being chosen as a target, some bad guys just can't read the clues that you are more trouble than they bargained for. Now is your chance to prove it.

Tips If Being Followed

  1. If you think you are being followed: Make a sudden turn, cross the street, accelerate, or go into a nearby business. If being followed by a car, reverse your direction - it will take them a much longer time to turn around and they will likely just continue on to find a different target. If you are unable to shake the follower, turn around and scream, "What do you want?" in your most indignant voice. This is likely to embarrass the innocent and frighten off a large portion of potential attackers. If this doesn't work, now you must:
  2. Scream. Your voice is your primary weapon - remember that the last thing the bad guy wants is a fuss. Screaming ANYTHING halts the attack in many cases or at least buys you a couple of seconds while they consider whether there might be easier prey. Over the years, experts have warned not to yell, "Help" but to yell, "Fire." I favor, "Leave me the $%#& alone! Get away!" If you carry a personal alarm or whistle, use it.
  3. Run/retreat. Put yardage between you and the perpetrator. Distance equals time, you are giving yourself time with every footstep you put between you and him. An all-out run is what you need. Be screaming continually while running. Keep screaming. Don't stop screaming until you are completely out of danger.
  1. Run toward other people: If there are other people nearby, run to them. If there is a lighted business or home, run to it. Even if they won't let you in, you are attracting attention which will likely cause the attacker to leave the area.
  2. But what if he has a weapon? If the bad guy displays a gun, knife, baseball bat, etc. do the scream and run double time. Putting distance between you gives you protection against weapons - if it is a gun, run in a crooked line, looking for cover but mostly concentrating on gaining distance. It is very difficult for even the best marksman to hit a moving target, so become a moving target. Hitting anything over 15 yards away is very difficult. By displaying a weapon he has threatened your life, and you have to believe he means it. You need to get out of the situation before he completes his threat. The odds are on your side more with every yard you gain.
  3. But what if he shows a weapon and wants me to get in a vehicle or go off into the bushes? Unless he has you physically restrained, scream and run. If you are female, you have almost 100% chance of being raped and may be killed if you get into a vehicle. If you are male, you have almost 100% chance of being killed. With those odds, your odds are much better that he can't hit a moving object with a bullet, and in almost all cases he won't shoot anyway - he wants to scare you into the vehicle or bushes, not shoot you or he would have done that already. Remember, unless this is somebody you know, they aren't looking for you, they'll let you go and look for an easier target.

    If You Are Grabbed

    At this point, if you freeze and do nothing, and you survive, you did the right thing -don't dwell on what might have been. Freezing is a natural reaction to the unexpected, even in those trained in self-defense. But the odds are not with you in using this as a defense. If your attacker surprises you and gets you into a grip, now is the time to fight - because "only your life depends on it" (Clint Smith of Thunder Ranch). You need to get out of his grip and be able to run. Learn grip-breaking techniques. When you can't break the grip, now you've got to inflict surprising and/or incapacitating pain on your attacker. Gouge eyes, puncture eardrums, crush his windpipe, rake his shins, break his thumbs, rip his ears off (easy to do), jam a sharp object into any available portion of his body, and with caution regarding AIDS risk - bite any part of him you can. Fight dirty, cheat, win. Get away.

    Crash the Car: If you have been forced into a vehicle, make every attempt to cause a traffic accident and crash the vehicle. By getting you into the vehicle, they attackers have shown they plan to seriously injure or kill you. Your chances are better in causing an accident and escaping in the confusion.

    Personal Protection and Training


    In an emergency, the mind is often frozen with indecision. The body carries through if you have practiced or trained for this emergency. Practice often, out loud, screaming at somebody who is accosting you and running in retreat. You need to "look forward to being attacked," and practice what you need to do in every detail. You may wish to warn your neighbors beforehand, or get them to join in. Mutual awareness and protection is a good thing to build in your neighborhood!


    The only effective weapon is the one that is used. Carrying a weapon is not a deterrent - its only advantage is during the fight. As a citizen, you must obey all local laws of the jurisdiction you are in at the time. It is your responsibility to learn those laws, especially when traveling.

    • Competence: If you choose to carry a weapon - pepper spray, knife, gun, taser, etc. you are responsible to learn how to use that weapon safely, effectively, and legally. You must get the appropriate license and training required.
    • Practice: Practice often, going through a whole attack. Pretend you are being accosted. Scream, retreat, and when cornered use the weapon. In real life, you will do exactly as you practice, so make the practice as realistic as you can - including the screaming.
    • Brandishing: It is illegal in many jurisdictions to display a gun or knife to try to deter an attack. They should only come into view as you are using them to stop an attack. Know your local laws rather than imitating what you've seen on TV or in movies.
    • Training: If you plan to carry a weapon, get the best training you can. Ask your local law enforcement folks who provides their training, and join in. You'll meet new friends among our men and women in blue, too. A good course emphasizes defensive tactics and safe retreat. Join a sport that demands safe, ongoing practice with your weapon, such as practical shooting.

      Always-Legal Weapons

      Some weapons will give you a fighting chance and can be legally and visibly carried on any street. These include walking/hiking sticks and sharp objects such as a fistful of keys, a pen, a comb or a flashlight. You need the will to use them to slash or bop an attacker if you are restrained from running away. Handy weapons must be handy if you plan to use them, not buried in your hip pack or pocket. My keychain is a plastic ice-scraper with a finger hole in the middle. With my middle finger in the hole, I have "plastic knuckles" that become a slashing/poking weapon. I can carry it legally on any street in the hemisphere. As a bonus, I can and do use it to scrape ice off my windshield in winter.

      In the case of being accosted, consider any object in your possession as a weapon and use it, even a cell phone (below). One racewalker reported beating off an attacker with a pay phone receiver.

      Cell Phones and Walking Safety 

      Carrying a cell phone is a good idea - you can call 911 in the case of a medical emergency. When accosted, don't waste a split second with a phone, you need to be screaming and running. Even if you got a call off and the police responded immediately, most attacks take less than five minutes to complete, and your attacker will be long gone before help arrives. Far better to use it to report to the police after you have effectively stopped the attack by screaming, running, and fighting as necessary.

      Look Forward, Don't Surrender Your Freedom

      As a law-abiding citizen, I have earned the right to walk the streets unmolested. I will exercise that right and be prepared. Go forth, and - be careful out there.