Run Safely in the Dark With These 5 Tips

A man and woman run together in the dark in a city park wearing light up gear

Fall is here. As we welcome cooler temps, we also say goodbye to precious hours of daylight. If you run at night or in the morning, you’re likely to spend part of your run in the dark.

According to the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration, 75 percent of pedestrian fatalities in traffic crashes occur in darkness. Most of those occur between the hours of 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. during the fall and winter. The risk is nearly as great in the pre-dawn hours, too.

So, you have to be proactive to stay safe while running in the dark.

Make yourself visible with a combination of lights and strategically-placed reflective elements.

Think from a driver’s perspective about visibility. Here’s why:

  • Drivers’ eyes never become fully accustomed to driving in total darkness because of constantly changing lights.
  • With high beams on, drivers with the best vision can only see about 500 feet. With low beams, the best eyes can see about 250 feet, which leaves only seconds to notice a runner in darkness.
  • Drivers are often tired in the morning or at night, which slows reaction time.
  • Drivers headed to and from work are often impatient and in a hurry, or even impaired.
  • Drivers are not expecting to see you on the road.
  • Many drivers are not even looking at the road because they are distracted by their phones.

The right gear and preparation can help you stay safe and have a fun nighttime run, too. But traffic safety is only part of the equation. As Claire Green points out in her article, Rethinking Runner Safety,” many BIPOC runners are more concerned about direct threats from other people than they are about traffic. So what can you do to be safer on the run?

(1) Tell someone when and where you’re going or, better yet, run with a friend.

A group of people wearing warm winter running clothes on a run together

We always suggest running with a friend or group if possible—safety in numbers!

However, it’s unlikely you will be able to pair up for every run. So, get into the habit of letting your partner, a friend, or a family member know when and where you’re going, and when you expect to be back.

For this to be effective, make sure to tell them when you get home, too.

If you run with an iPhone or Android, you can opt to share your location with a family member or friend so they can see where you are in case of emergency.

(2) Wear reflective gear and lights.

Reflective clothing and lights enable drivers to see you and increase your visibility by several hundred feet. But where you wear it makes a big difference.

It’s important to wear reflective gear on all sides of your body—360 degrees—so that cars can see you from every direction. Since your arms, ankles, and feet move the most while running, place key reflective pieces there to make it easier for drivers to identify you as a moving pedestrian.

Since vehicle headlights are focused low, take advantage of lighting up your ankles and legs. And, pay attention to a concept called “biological motion.” Human eyes and brains are drawn to bright color and motion.

Wear blinking lights on the front and back of your body (clipping them to your reflective vest works well). Additionally, always wear a headlamp or carry a flashlight, even if you’re running in a well-lit area. This will illuminate your path and also alert oncoming traffic.

(3) Be mindful of your route.

A runner adjusts a headlamp before going for a run in the dark

Skip busy roads when possible. Katie Snyder of Avon Lake, Ohio, suggests hitting the trails to avoid cars completely.

But when the road is your only option, run facing traffic and pick a well-lit route if you can. When you can see a car coming, it’s easier to get out of the way.

Whenever possible, run on the sidewalk. Staying on the sidewalk will keep you out of the way of drivers who might not see you early in the morning or after sunset.

Try to switch up your route whenever you can, and avoid posting your routes publicly on social media websites like Strava or Instagram.

This can help avoid any potential encounters with strangers who might be watching you run.

(4) Stay alert.

It’s up to you to pay attention. Never assume that an oncoming driver can see you while running. Drivers are often distracted by their cell phones and aren’t expecting to share their space with pedestrians.

In short, obey traffic laws, stay on well-established routes you already know, and eliminate distractions like headphones. If you can’t hear a car, you put yourself at a much higher risk of being hit.

What’s more, headphones block out all the other surrounding noise, so you may not notice a passing cyclist or a suspicious person approaching. If you can't live without your headphones, try Shokz, which use an open ear design and bone conduction technology to help you stay aware of your surroundings on the run, even while listening to music or a podcast.

Two people wearing warm running clothes go for a run through the city

(5) Bring safety gear.

According to a survey by RunRepeat, 46 percent of female runners and 17 percent of male runners have been harassed while running.

Running in the dark can create a higher risk of harassment since it’s more difficult for both you and any potential witnesses to be aware of surroundings.

Pepper spray, a siren or even a taser can come in handy when faced with a dangerous situation. While you likely won’t need to use these products, it’s always best to be prepared in case of an emergency. Brands like Nathan and Mace have created self defense options for runners that are easy to carry with you while you run.

Keep Reading