Why You Should Run With Visibility in Mind

A woman tightens a lighted running vest around her chest before a run

How to be Visible on Dark Runs

Fall is here. As we welcome cooler temps, we also say goodbye to precious hours of daylight.

According to the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration, 75 percent of pedestrian fatalities in traffic crashes occur in the dark. 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. Light yourself up like a Christmas tree, bring along other nighttime running gear and think from a driver’s perspective about visibility. Here’s why:

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

  • 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, 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.

Tips to Run Safely at Night

If you want to run safely at night, you need to take your safety into your own hands by wearing lights, donning reflective clothing and running against traffic—never rely on a driver, cyclist or other runner to see you.

Here are some tips to make sure you don't get hurt on the road:

Three runners get ready for a workout at night

  • Skip the 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. If you can see a car coming, it’s easier to get out of the way.
  • Ditch the 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 another approaching pedestrian or cyclist.
  • Stick to the sidewalk. Staying on the sidewalk will keep you out of the way of drivers who might not see you when the sun is down.
  • Be visible from all directions, and use a combination of reflectivity and lights. You want to see and be seen, so a simple headlamp isn’t enough. Julie Hansbury of East Troy, Wisconsin, was badly shaken up after being clipped by a car while running. “Since then,” she says, “I’ve taken better precautions to be seen, such as wearing LED blinky lights, brighter clothing and a visibility vest.”
  • Gear placement is key. Light up your moving parts. 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 bright color and motion. So, put reflective detail on your extremities. You can add reflective shoelaces or clips to your shoes, carry handheld water bottles with reflective strips and wear running clothes with reflective elements.
  • Assume you are invisible. Cross behind drivers waiting to turn, and take added precaution to warn drivers of your presence. Sure, you might have the right of way as a pedestrian, but that doesn’t guarantee a driver will see you. Todd Burkhalter of Weaverville, North Carolina, takes this approach: “I have been known to wave my water bottle with its reflective strap as a car approaches to gain visibility.”

By Kate Schwartz. Schwartz has been running competitively for 20 years, and she currently runs with the Asheville Running Collective. She lives in Asheville, NC, with her husband, Alex, and their cat, Clementine.