Because No One Wants Their Run To End Up As A Cautionary Tale: Tips For Exercising Safely Outdoors.

Spring has sprung, we all get to exercise outside (yippee!!), and I thought it might be a good idea to pass along some tips on how not to get hit by a car while you are exercising, as well as how not to hit someone who is exercising while you’re driving. Cheery topic, I know. Inspired by the close encounters I have experienced and witnessed over the years….sigh.


1. Wear bright colors. Those cycling jerseys aren’t blindingly bright for fashion’s sake (well…maybe a little bit. But only a little.). If you are exercising at dawn, dusk, in fog or under cover of darkness, also wear something reflective and LED lights. Seriously. Not the time to rock the monochromatic black look, as slimming as it might be. Feel free to run like a ninja, but please, please, don’t dress like one. I always make sure that I have on at least one bright article of clothing while running and cycling, and only buy jackets in obnoxiously bright colors with reflective piping. Every little bit helps.

2. Run on sidewalks if there any available. If not, the rules of the road dictate that you run AGAINST traffic. This makes sense, so you can see what is coming at you. The only times I break this rule are (1) when there is a wide shoulder on one side of the road and no shoulder on the other side- then I stick to the wide-shouldered side; and (2) when I am running a road with sharp curves – I find it safest to stick to the outside of a curve – too much diminished visibility on the inside. If you are cycling, you are considered a vehicle, and must ride WITH traffic.

3. Turn your headphones down. I love my tunes. Love my tunes. Rarely run without them. But I do keep the volume low enough that I can hear what is going on around me. This is so important. There are many things that can hit you – cars, cyclists, dogs, kids on scooters. You need to be aware of what is around you, and that is hard when you can’t hear anything. I would never feel comfortable wearing headphones while cycling, although I know many do it without issues.

4. Be careful running in packs. Or riding in packs. It is much harder to run or cycle safely on roads when you take up a lot of space – someone, inevitably, will always be pushed closer to traffic. It can also be distracting, since you are focusing on the group and not necessarily your own safety. I think big group rides and runs are best done early on weekend mornings, when traffic is light, or on closed roads or trails. Other times and other places, please be really, really careful and be prepared to thin out and travel single file as needed.

5. Remember that in any battle with a car, you will lose. Yes, you will, Katniss. Who had the right of way will mean little to you if you are seriously injured (or worse) in an accident. As my Driver’s Ed teacher used to say, “No one wants to be dead right.” Stick to the rules of the road, but be prepared to bend them – as well as stop on a dime or jump into a bush – when needed to avoid an accident. And always yield to a car, even if they are in the wrong.

6. Assume the worst. I’m not normally a glass half-empty person, but I generally assume the worst when coming upon a car while running. I assume they don’t see me unless they wave. I assume that they will pull out of the road or driveway without letting me cross unless they wave me past (and even then, I always cross behind the car if possible).

7. Same goes for cycling. I assume that a car will not let me pass before they pull out of their driveway, or go first at the four-way stop sign, even though it can be a pain to unclip. They usually do, but not always. Not interested in rolling the dice in this situation.

8. Keep in mind that a car pulling out of a driveway and taking a right may not look to the right before pulling out (they’ll look to the left to make sure a car isn’t coming, but may not look to the right until after they start to turn). Unfortunately, you will be coming at them from the right if you are running against traffic, perfectly timed to be hit by them unless you are prepared to stop. Slow down and let them turn. Better safe than sorry.

9. Be prepared to slow down and stop as necessary. Save the speedwork and fartleks for tracks, trails or long stretches of road without driveways and intersections. Lots of people use the roads in lots of different ways in nice weather and you may not be able to maintain the speeds you want. Accept it. You are not going to beat your Garmin on a crowded road. Adjust your running schedule and location if needed, but don’t be foolish and train in a way that compromises your safety.

10. Carry something that has your name and a contact number in case there is an emergency. I love my ROAD ID bracelet, which has room for several phone numbers and also lists my allergies.


1. Slow down. SLOW DOWN. For God’s sake, slow down. Just leave 5 minutes earlier so you don’t have to drive so fast.

2. Put your cell phone down. PUT YOUR CELL PHONE DOWN. Also put down your lipstick, your blackberry, your sandwich, your mascara, your purse, your iPod…

3. Maybe you aren’t a big fan of runners and hate cyclists. Maybe you’re annoyed that they are on the road to begin with, so you are not inclined to drive in a way that doesn’t intimidate. Yeah, you know who you are. Well, runners and riders aren’t the only recreational users of roads – kids, elderly, walkers, dogs – everyone likes to get out in nice weather. Hopefully you don’t hate all of them, too. And it just may be a freckle-faced 7 year old that you hit or scare into falling and hurting themselves. Be careful. And considerate.

4. If you are driving a Prius or other ultra-quiet car, be aware that people probably cannot hear you coming, especially kids on bikes or scooters. Give a wide berth. Colby, in particular, has had some close brushes with our eco-friendly drivers.



Happy Spring everyone. Be careful out there.


12 thoughts on “Because No One Wants Their Run To End Up As A Cautionary Tale: Tips For Exercising Safely Outdoors.

  1. I really like this post! The running tips are helpful, especially as a runner in the city! Running on sidewalks when available (as opposed to bike lanes) and turning your music down are two important ones. Thanks for the tips!

  2. All good points. This weekend I was doing my long run. I was running on the side of the street facing traffic, inside of the breakdown lane. On a road with two lanes in each direction on several occassions cars crowded me even when they were the only car on the road.
    Even if a driver looks you right in the eye, they may still pull out in front of you. It’s amazing.
    Some people go out of their way to give you room, others are DBs.

  3. GREAT list, and very important to follow, especially the advice about cars. I have read too many stories about runners being hit by cars and spending the rest of their lives incapacitated. It’s just not worth the risk. I’ve had several close calls myself, just blocks from my home (cars running stop signs, or stopping and still not seeing me when I think it’s safe to go = SCARY!).

    Amen about the Road ID as well. I switched from a shoe tag to a bracelet after a firefighter told me that if you get struck by a car your shoes could fly off, and they might not be seen or get picked up before they cart you off in the ambulance.

    I would also reiterate always, always run or walk AGAINST traffic on the road so you can see what’s coming. I see so many runners and walkers who don’t do this, and it’s just not safe.

    • So interesting about the Road ID – glad I got the bracelet.
      I hear you about the close calls. The two closest calls I had, I was IN THE CROSSWALK WITH A CROSSING GUARD!! It was close to school start time both times and the school crossing guard waved me through the crosswalk as she held her hand out to stop traffic. Fortunately, since I assume nothing, I slowed down before approaching the cars that were rolling toward the stop sign. So when they rolled through the stop sign and the crosswalk, I was prepared to jump back. One in particular was so very close that I had to sit by the side of the road for a bit to collect myself. So close. So scary.

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