Posted by Dave on August 31, 2011 | 8 CommentsAs the days begin to get shorter in the north and the school year wreaks havoc on running schedules, more and more runners are taking to the streets in the dark. I was surprised to realize last week that as the summer wanes, I once again need a headlamp for my regular 6 a.m. run with my local running club.
But as I run in to town on these mornings, I’m equally surprised to see many runners with no illumination at all, and even more who aren’t wearing reflective running gear, despite running along a busy thoroughfare. In the U.S. in 2008, over 4,000 pedestrians were killed in traffic accidents, and nearly half of those accidents occurred at night, despite the fact that there are significantly fewer cars and pedestrians during those hours.
If you run in the dark, you can increase your chances of avoiding an accident by wearing clothing that makes you more visible. Bright-colored clothing can help a little, but reflective running gear and lights improve your odds even more. Think of it this way: Car drivers at night are primarily looking out for other cars and traffic markings. All of these things are illuminated, have reflectors, or both. If you want to be seen, you need to look like the things car drivers are looking for, as this study I wrote up a few years ago for Cognitive Daily attests.
Take a look at the photo above and notice how easy it is to spot the runners, despite the fact that they are dressed in black! They have reflective print on their shirts and bright headlights: The reflectors are what matter, not the color of their outfits. With that in mind, here are some tips for running safely in the dark:
- Wear clothing with true reflective patches (not just light-colored clothing!), or buy a reflective vest to wear over your regular running gear. Some shoes come with reflective patches — test yours by shining your car lights or a flashlight on them at night. But you also want to wear reflective clothing at driver’s-eye-level.
- For more visibility, consider buying flashing lights that attach to your clothing or vest. The Blue Ridge Relay, a 30-hour relay race I’ll be competing in next week, requires that all runners have flashing lights both front and back
- Wear a headlamp to improve your ability to see the roadway or path. This might not be necessary on well-lit streets. Important: Runners’ headlamps aren’t especially visible to drivers, so make sure you have other reflective/illuminated gear. From a distance, they look a lot like porchlights. You might think your head would bob up and down as you run to make it clear to drivers that you’re moving, but in fact runners’ heads stay remarkably steady, and a headlamp generally appears to drivers as a steady light.
- On streets without sidewalks, run on the left side of the road, facing traffic. This makes it easier for you to jump off the road if it’s clear a driver doesn’t see you.
- Tip: I find my headlamp is much more comfortable if I wear it over a hat, rather than directly on my head
- There’s plenty of other reflective gear you can buy: Hats, gloves, belts, wrist/legbands, you name it. The more you wear, the more likely it is that drivers will spot you.
- If you run with an iPod or other audio device, keep the volume low enough that you can hear traffic
I’m going to try something new for Science-Based Running: A poll to see how our readers run in the dark. If we get enough responses, I’ll add polls to more posts in the future.
If you have other tips for running in the dark, share them in the comments. Stay safe out there!