Walking is a simple, low-impact activity that people of almost any age can do to help stay in shape, but there are still dangers. In order to keep yourself safe as a pedestrian, there are a few rules of thumb you need to keep in mind. This is doubly true if you find yourself traversing on the road itself, and not on a footpath or sidewalk. To keep yourself safe while you’re out, remember the following rules.

Face Oncoming Traffic

If there is no sidewalk, pedestrians should walk on the side of the road where you’ll be facing oncoming traffic. That means that if approaching vehicles are on the right side of the road, as they are in North America, you should travel on the left side. That way you’ll be able to see any oncoming vehicles have a chance to dive or dodge out of the way if necessary. If you’re a cyclist, though, you still need to ride in the same direction as traffic.

Pedestrians should always cross the street at marked crosswalks

Cross the Street in Pedestrian Crossing Lanes

The most obvious rule to keep in mind when crossing a street is the one that your mother probably told you when you were a child: look both ways before you cross. If you’re at an intersection with stoplights, it’s best to wait until the pedestrian crosswalk light turns on or the traffic light turns green while paying attention to driver signals, and any emergency vehicle in the immediate vicinity. Pedestrians must share the roadway, follow traffic signals just like motor vehicles, including stopping for red lights, and paying particular attention to any vehicle that may be backing out of a driveway.

Keep an eye out for any driver waiting to turn – drivers and cyclists who have a green light can still turn across the pedestrian crosswalk, so watch out. Wave or make eye contact with drivers who may be turning to make sure they see you. Just like drivers, you should yield for a school bus and move away from boarding and departing passengers.

It’s their job to watch out, but if there’s a collision between you and a car, the car won’t be the one to suffer any damage. Jaywalking can save you time, but it is also a ticketable offense according to state law as well as a safety hazard. Just avoid it and only cross in marked crosswalks.

Pedestrian crossing in front of driver making left turn

When Possible Pedestrians Should Walk Single File

If you aren’t on a sidewalk or in a separate lane from vehicle traffic, you should walk in a single file line. This gives approaching vehicles the widest berth possible, so they’ll be able to avoid you more easily. This is even more important on curvy, narrow roads, where a car might only have a second or two to twitch the wheel and avoid running you over. It might be more fun to be side-by-side, but it isn’t safe.

Pay Attention to Emergencies and Problems on the Roadway

Watch out for any emergency vehicle ahead and proceed with caution until red lights stop flashing. You are sharing the roadway with vehicles full of passengers. Stay out of the way of emergency vehicles and be watchful of drivers whose eyes will be focuses on the flashing lights instead of pedestrians.

Be Aware of Runners and Cyclists

You’ll need to share the road with runners and cyclists in addition to motor vehicles. Cyclists should alert you to their approach by yelling out as they pass you “passing on your left (or right)!” Keep your ears open and move over to allow them to pass safely. Runners should signal their approach similarly. Cyclists aren’t as much of a danger as cars, but they’re moving quickly and can still break pedestrians’ bones or cause concussions, so watch out.

Make Sure You’re Visible to Any Vehicle Ahead

During the day, wear bright colors so that it’s easy for drivers to see you. When a pedestrian walks at night they should still wear bright colors, but also wear a reflective vest. Drivers don’t usually expect walkers to be out after dark, so you need to make sure they can see you.

Be extra careful around dawn or dusk, as drivers may have the rising or setting sun in their eyes. When possible pedestrians should walk only on designated pedestrian walks and avoid vehicle lanes when you can.

Put Your Phone Away

Texting or playing games on your phone while you walk is dangerous, just like it is when you’re driving. If you are distracted, you won’t be as aware of your environment. You could fail to notice danger from other traffic, not see other joggers and cyclists, or trip on something.

Pickpockets and other criminals will see you as an easy target. Keep your phone in your pocket or at least stop somewhere safe to use your phone before you move on.

Women crossing the street while looking at her phone

Keep Pets on a Short Leash

Whether they’re on a leash or not, it is scary and sometimes tragic to see dogs run off into traffic or get into dog fights. When you walk your dog on a long leash, those things can happen, and they can also trip cyclists or walkers.

Keep your dog and the people around you safe by keeping your dog on a leash, and by making sure that the leash is short enough to keep your dog under your control. Keep the leash as short as ones you commonly see on a guide dog. Be careful of driveway and private alley dangers by keeping your pet as close to you as possible when going down the street.

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