14 Top Road Running Safety Tips

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Top Road Running Rules Of The Road – Safety Tips

Two separate stories, of men being arrested while running on the roads, caught my attention today and made me think about some of the basic and not-so-basic rules of the road for road running safety.

The first was a story of a naked runner arrested for running on the highway. The second was the story ofRules For Road Running Safetyman arrested multiple times for running down the middle of a busy street

So, as I headed out onto the roads for a little five-mile run of my own, I contemplated these stories, along with some of the general road running safety practices that I observe and have been taught. Some lessons came from cross country coaches, some from running companions, some from any of the myriad running books on my bookshelves and nightstand, and many I have learned through common sense and years of experience as a runner.

As the summer heats up and a nice warm Spring has harkened many runners to hit the streets in search of fitness, thrills, companionship, or solace in their own thoughts, and whatever else motivates people to hit the roads running, it is wise to be mindful of some of the “rules of the road” for running on the roads, to keep yourself and your running companions safe and healthy.

The following are a number of road-running safety tips for you to ponder and share with your running brethren:

Top Road Running Safety Tips:

Whether you are a seasoned veteran road runner or a newbie beginning runner – common sense and a few road running safety rules and tips can go a long way to keeping you safe when you hit the streets for a run. For maximum safety during your runs, follow these road-running best practices:

1. Avoid Known Hazards Along Your Running Course
  • dogs
  • busy roads – congested roadways mean more distractions for drivers
  • highways & interstates – Don’t get arrested like the Canadian charity runner cited in the article above, for running on roads which are typically designated for vehicular traffic only. Many such roads are posted.
  • curvy, hilly roads with blind turns
  • poorly maintained roadways (a twisted ankle and spiral fracture of your tib/fib can put a real damper on your fitness and running PR goals for the season)
  • high crime areas

Naturally, at times, some curvy, hilly roads with blind turns will be part of our runs, either because of where we live, work or other convenience factors and thus cannot be easily avoided, and let’s face it, these “country roads” (excuse the link – it’s a West Virginia thing) are often great places to run, because of limited traffic, scenic vistas and the flora, fauna and kindly people we encounter along the way.

Following are some additional road running safety tips to bear in mind, particularly the next:

2. On Which Side of the Road to Run? 

Run on the Correct side of the road!

Please note that I did not say run on the Left side of the road or against traffic! While this is a generally accepted practice and in general application is a best practice for road running safety (because you have a better lookout ahead of you and have time to react to a distracted driver coming at you, and because they have a better chance of seeing the whites of your eyes and avoiding you), please bear in mind that there are many exceptions, where you should run on the Right side of the road, and even cross the road on one or more occasions during a given run. 

I certainly do not advocate flip-flopping back and forth, as common sense must prevail here. So, please discard what you have been told – that you should always run facing oncoming traffic! Instead, apply these principles of common sense and safety:

  • Run on the side that gives you best visibility (ahead and behind)
  • Run on the side that gives oncoming cars on THAT side best visibility of you
  • Run on the side that has a sidewalk or shoulder
  • Run on the side that has an exit (a wall, cliff or ditch provides an undesirable or NO escape route, if you must make a sudden dive to save yourself from being run down)
  • When approaching a steep hill or a blind turn, apply rules above and switch sides if wise to do so (i.e. if oncoming cars are blind to you as they crest the hill/round the turn, you have little or no shoulder, and visibility from behind you on the other side of the road is markedly better for you and oncoming vehicles)
3. Follow the “Rules of the Road”
  • if there is a clearly designated jogging or pedestrian area on the shoulder, or a curb, use it
  • stay to the edge or if possible to do safely just off the berm of the road
  • look both ways before crossing
  • always maintain a proper lookout ahead and behind
  • if running in pairs, single file is best if on the road; although, if visibility is good and you are vigilant in maintaining a lookout, you could run side-by-side in such situations
  • observe crosswalks & lights when running in town
  • unlike the man in the article referenced above, running in the center of the road is not generally a safe practice, unless you are running with the bulls in Pamplona, in which case all other rules are off
4. Carry Identification

A drivers license will do, but even better – get yourself a RoadID, which allows you to identify yourself and any pertinent medical alerts. Road running safety includes having proper identification in a worst-case-scenario setting, if emergency medical care would become necessary, so medical providers can properly identify you, enact proper treatment protocols (e.g. identify your blood type), and contact your emergency contacts.

5. Carry Your Cell Phone & A Few Dollars

Cell phones will not only assist you in getting aid in case of an emergency, they are handy for stopping to order a pizza to be delivered at your home when you are 30-minutes out. Also, if you have been jonesin’ for one of those fancy GPS running watches – download runkeeper to your smartphone. The $ naturally is for a pit stop – especially if you need hydration, or your route passes by a nice little ice cream shop (because your emotional wellbeing is also a part of road running safety).

6. Tell Someone When & Where You Are Headed & when You Expect To Be Back

If it is not someone in your own household to whom you are returning, tell a friend or family member, and tell them you will call them when you return.

7. Run with A Buddy

Find a running companion or dog and keep each other safe – don’t allow that companion to be a distraction from good road running safety practices.

8. Should you Wear Headphones While Running?

Headphones while running along the streets is not a road running safety best practice; however, if you must, for motivation, the beat, distraction, or what have you, please be mindful that they are a distraction. Do NOT allow them to be a fatal distraction. Keep the volume at a level that you can easily hear oncoming cars (without the use of their horn), a person’s voice, or deer hooves about to trample you.

9. What About Running with Sunglasses?

On a sunny day, these are a must and will help you keep a proper lookout by enhancing your vision. However, be sure to wear proper fitting shades, so they don’t bounce around and become a distraction, and also wear the proper tint so they don’t obscure too much light and impair your vision in low-light situations.

10. Stay Hydrated

Always drink plenty of fluids before and after a run, and as a general rule of thumb, if running longer than an hour, or in extreme heat and humidity, bring fluids along.

11. Running Protection

If you hit the streets to run alone, it may be a good idea to carry a noisemaker (such as a whistle), mace, or some other form of protection.

12. Wear Sunscreen

If you are running in the sun for any significant length of time, a little bit of sunscreen will go a long way to preventing melanoma. And, don’t forget the backs of your knees.

13. Waive At/To Oncoming Cars

This could be done and viewed as a curtesy, but it serves the dual purpose of also making you visible to oncoming cars and a potentially grabbing the attention of a distracted driver who may not otherwise see you. An erratic side-to-side movement, such as waiving your hand in the air or simply sticking it up in the air to waive, may give you greater visibility to an oncoming vehicle.

It may also signal an oncoming vehicle to respond to your gesture with a similar gesture of curtesy, such as waiving back or moving over a little further in the roadway. I do this often, and particularly in situations where I am uncertain if I am seen. Try it, and you may be surprised at how frequently you get an acknowledgment and with it reassurance of your safety.

14. When In Doubt, Stop and Wait

Whether crossing the road or passing in front of a vehicle that is waiting to turn onto a road (from another road, parking lot, or driveway), do NOT ever assume that they see you, unless you are expressly waived on and make eye contact. Several years ago, I was nearly run down by a couple in a Mercedes, who were pulling out of a restaurant parking lot and completely disregarded their stop sign and were otherwise oblivious of me. I, on the other hand, made the erroneous assumption that they would stop at their stop sign.

Running Situations Requiring Additional Care & Planning

In addition to the general road running safety tips enumerated and discussed above, there are a few additional running situations that require additional caution, such as running in the dark, running on trails and running during travel. Each is discussed below:

Running in the Dark

If you must run at night, or before dawn, be extra mindful of the fact that there are may not be as many people up or out to come to your aid if you find yourself in trouble. Accordingly, adhere to these additional road running safety measures:

  • follow well-lit roads and paths
  • run with a companion or furry companion
  • stick to known and safe areas
  • carry some form of protection or a whistle or other noisemaker
  • wear reflective materials (hat, belt, arm & leg bands)
  • bring a light or headlamp for visibility

Running in the woods

Again, you may be somewhat isolated from other people who could potentially come to your rescue if you get injured or into trouble. Thus proper non- road running safety for trail running includes:

  • run with a companion or dog
  • stick to marked or known trails
  • map out your run
  • go early to avoid being lost at nightfall
  • be careful of loose footing areas
  • stay alert for wildlife or rogue hunters and vigilantes
  • keep a lookout ahead for obstacles and potential hazard areas
  • know your limits, both in terms of distance traversed and technical skills on such terrain.

Also, if you are directionally challenged, don’t go too far or too far off of the beaten path if you are prone to get lost.

Running in a Foreign City – Scout it Out First

Road running safety includes knowing your route, before you head out. If you are running in a town that you do not know, while you are traveling, always scout your route, before heading out! In a hotel, ask the front desk or information for a safe running route. Find/call a local running store to inquire. Go online and find a place to run using map my run or log into your favorite running social site for runners and inquire of local running venues.