11 Walking Safety Rules

How to Stay Safe Walking on the Sidewalk, Path, or Road

School Crossing Sign
Wendy Bumgardner ©

Walking is a healthy activity, but you need to know the rules of thumb of pedestrian safety. This is especially true if you are walking in an area where there aren't sidewalks or paths separate from the road. To stay safe walking, follow these rules of the road:

1. Walk Facing Traffic When Walking on the Side of the Road

If there is no sidewalk and you must walk on the side of the road, choose the side where you are facing oncoming traffic. In North America, this is the left side of the road. This gives you the best chance to see traffic approaching closest to you and take evasive action when needed. This may be confusing because the opposite rule is true for cyclists, who cycle in the same direction as the traffic flow.

2. Cross Safely

Your mother was right—you should look both ways before crossing any street. At controlled intersections, it is wise to cross only when you have the pedestrian crossing light. Even then, drivers and bikers may have a green light to turn and won't be expecting you to be in the crosswalk. Make eye contact with any drivers who may be turning. Give them a wave. Make sure they see you. In an interaction between a vehicle and a walker, the walker can only lose. It can be tempting to simply jaywalk, but that is not only a safety hazard, it can result in getting a ticket.

3. Walk Single File When Not Separated from the Road

Unless you are on a sidewalk separated from the road or you are in a wide bike/pedestrian lane, you should walk in single file. This is especially important on a road with lots curves and where traffic has only a split second chance of seeing you before hitting you. While it can be enjoyable to walk down the road two to three abreast chatting merrily, drivers don't expect it and you may lose your best walking buddies.

4. Stay Aware of Bikes and Runners

Share the road and path with bikes and runners. Bike riders should alert you when approaching from behind with a bike bell or a "passing on the left/right." Listen for them, and move to walk single file, allowing them to pass safely. Runners should also call out for passing. Bike-walker collisions can result in broken bones or head injury for either—and you aren't wearing a helmet.

5. Be Visible

Wear bright colors when walking in daytime. When walking at night, wear light-colored clothing and reflective clothing or a reflective vest to be visible. Drivers are often not expecting walkers to be out after dark, and you need to give them every chance to see you, even at street crossings that have crossing signals. Be just as cautious at dawn or twilight, as drivers still have limited visibility or may even have the setting or rising sun directly in their eyes.

6. Be Predictable

Make a practice of staying on one side of the path while walking rather than weaving randomly from side to side. Watch your arm motions, or you may end up giving a black eye to a passing walker, runner, or biker.

7. Keep the Volume Down

Don't drown out your environment when listening to music with your earbuds or headphones. Keep the volume at a level where you can still hear bike bells and warnings from other walkers and runners. Your audiologist will also thank you.

8. Hang Up and Eyes Up

Distracted walking due to chatting, texting, or playing games like Pokemon Go on a mobile device while you walk is as dangerous as doing those things while driving. You are distracted and not as aware of your environment. You are less likely to recognize traffic danger, tripping hazards, or passing joggers and bikers. Potential criminals see you as a an easy target. Adopt habits that can keep your phone in your pocket, or at least make it a practice to stop in a safe place to complete your phone tasks before moving on.

9. Walk Dogs on Short Leashes

It is terrifying and tragic to witness dogs running out in to traffic or getting into a fatal dog fight, whether on leash or off leash. But when walking your dog on a long leash there is also a danger that you will trip other walkers or bikers. You will keep your dog safer as well as those who pass by you if you use proper leash walking etiquette.

10. Know When to Stop Walking

Heat sickness, dehydration, heart attack, or stroke can strike walkers of any age. Learn the symptoms of medical emergencies and carry a cell phone to dial 911. Even if you are a seasoned and well-trained walker, you may experience one of these problems and need to cut your walk short. Encourage your walking friends to stop when they show any concerning symptoms.

11. Be Aware of Stranger Danger

Street safety is a concern for many walkers. Choose your walking route for paths frequented by other walkers, joggers, and bikers. If you see someone suspicious, be prepared to alter your course or go into a store or public building to avoid them. Acting alert and aware can convince bad guys you are not an easy target.

Use these rules to enjoy safer walking workouts and avoid injuries and accidents.