7 ways to be safer when exercising outdoors at night

Whether you are an early morning riser, or prefer to workout after work, at some point during the year, you will likely be exercising in the dark.

When you’re out before sunrise or after sunset, or on a cloudy or rainy day, it’s important to take extra precautions to stay safe — whether you’re walking, jogging, skating or biking.

Stay safe out there

While most of us workout between dusk and dawn because of work and family commitments, the dark hours of each day have their benefits — they’re usually cooler and less-crowded.

However, safety becomes something you really need to think about. That’s because the majority of motorist/pedestrian/cyclist accidents occur in the evening hours between 6 pm and midnight.

We’re not talking small numbers, either. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 4,743 pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes in the United States, in 2012, while another 76,000 pedestrians were injured. Meanwhile, the CDC notes that 800 bicyclists were killed in the US in 2010, and an estimated 515,000 sustained bicycle-related injuries that required emergency department care.

Here are some important things to know about how to stay aware, visible, and safe on the road after the sun goes down — especially when you exercise.

1. Bring your phone

When you head out, take your phone with you. If you don’t have a pocket or bag, you can carry it on an armband.

Of course, a mobile phone will allow you to you contact someone in case of a problem, but the GPS and map features can be handy if you get lost, and you can also get weather alerts, keep track of the time, and even download apps to use your phone as a flashlight or emergency flasher.

2. Don’t go it alone

Plan your route, suggests the UW Health Sports Medicine Fitness Center staff, and let someone know where you are going and how long you plan to be gone.

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“There’s strength and safety in numbers,” says Barbara Kantor, founder of Vedante, a company that makes several different safety products, including the popular reflective pop bands. “If you’re walking, shopping, biking or running alone, let someone know the route you’re taking and approximately how long you will be out.”

While you’re out and about, there are several apps available that will allow you to share your movements with a trusted friend. iPhone users can do this automatically via text messaging. Just go to the screen for the person with whom you want to share, tap “details” and choose iphone send my location tracking“Share my location.” You can enable this feature for one hour, the end of the day, or until you turn it off.

>> Is a fitness tracker right for you?

If you live in a neighborhood that is unsafe to exercise in after dark (no sidewalks or there are other issues) consider stopping someplace on the way to or from work to exercise in a safer area. If you can, have a buddy go with you to increase your comfort level and safety.

For your own personal safety, UW Health recommends that you change your route frequently. Above all, when you’re out, listen to your instincts. As Kantor says, “If you feel that you’re entering an unsafe situation, trust your gut.”

3. Always make sure you’re visible

Understand that there are others on the road that may not be visible to you — and, conversely, that others may not be able to see you. Take steps to become more visible at night. You can start by wearing white or light-colored clothing. “White can be seen at night up to about 200 feet,” says Kantor. On the other hand, black can only be seen from about 20 feet.

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You should also wear reflective clothing and shoes, and may want to invest in a headlamp as well as a blink light for your back. Kantor says, “If you carry a light, place it on the side closest to traffic.” If you’re on a bicycle, use appropriate reflectors and lighting.

4. Be smart about where you go

Learn which roads and paths are adequately lit for safe nighttime walking and cycling, and plan your route accordingly.

Whether traveling by car, by bike, or on foot, know the rules of the road — particularly right-of-way laws. Run/walk against the flow of traffic, but bike with traffic. Sidewalks, bike paths and crosswalks exist for a good reason — be sure you are where you belong.

In addition, cyclists should use appropriate signals and lanes (and should dismount and cross streets on foot), while pedestrians should only cross at official crosswalks.

>> Cycle smart: Bike safety tips

To play it safe, use sidewalks when available, and if there is no sidewalk or path, walk as far away from traffic as possible. When a crosswalk or intersection is not available, the NHTSA recommends you locate a well-lit area, wait for a gap in traffic that allows you enough time to cross safely, and continue to watch for traffic as you cross.

Keep alert by visually scanning your surroundings. Pedestrians should stop at the curb to view the road, and cyclists should look over their shoulder to see if the road is clear when turning. (Collisions are very common during vehicle right turns.)

Always watch for reverse lights and listen for cars with running motors — realizing that electric vehicles make little to no noise — and don’t walk behind them. In crosswalks and parking lots, be sure drivers are aware of your presence by making eye contact before crossing in front of them.

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Always remember, says Kantor, “You are an unexpected object at night.”

5. Be aware of common distractions

Even though you will have your phone with you, don’t listen to music with headphones or earbuds, as this may keep you from being fully aware of your surroundings in the dark.

Likewise, remember that texting a friend, taking a selfie, posting a status update, shuffling through songs on your phone and even talking on a cell phone can reduce your ability to react to threatening traffic situations. Save the tech for full stops when you’re secure in your surroundings.

>> Fast & slow: Vary your walking pace to burn more calories

6. Always have ID handy

Have identification easily available. “We hope you never need it, but safety first,” Kantor says. “Put your driver’s license in your pocket or handbag, or wear an ID tag on your shoe.”

Some smartphone models also allow you to set emergency contact information that’s accessible even when the phone is locked. (Make sure your information is up-to-date. On the iPhone, your details are listed under “Medical ID” in the Health app.)

7. Work with the weather

Motorists often have difficulty seeing someone in a crosswalk at night or during rainy, snowy  or foggy weather, so be extra cautious to be sure that you’re seen.

Also watch your body temperature. There’s often a fine balance between being warm enough and not overheating, so remember to dress in layers. You can always remove clothing. If it’s windy out, consider moving into the wind as you leave your starting location so the wind is at your back on the return trip.

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