10 Rules for running safely

Running is a great activity for both your physical and mental well-being-it strengthens your muscles and lungs and can help you unwind after a long day. But a lot of us run on or along roads that have become an all-too-frequent (and sometimes fatal) meeting place for distracted drivers and hard-to-spot runners. Deadly collisions between runners and motorists are occurring with steady frequency in the United States. While state and federal officials do not track if pedestrians involved in car accidents are runners or not, a Runner's World search of newspaper and online reports found that nearly 20 runners had been killed by cars or trucks during the first 10 months of 2009. Among the fatalities: 22-year-old college senior and Runnersworld.com reader Elizabeth Dinunzio. In April 2009, a truck struck and killed her just five days before her first marathon. The following guidelines can get you thinking and help keep you safe so you can keep hitting the roads for a long, long time.

1. Abide by all traffic laws. If there's a stop sign, you need to stop at it, too. And if jaywalking is illegal in your state, you're still breaking the law if you do it while running.

2. Be aware of your surroundings.
A lot of runners (myself included) run with music, and that's fine-it can even help you run longer or faster. But do yourself a favor and keep the volume low and only use one ear bud so you can hear approaching cars and people. Not only is it safer, but blasting music isn't good for your hearing anyway. Also, I personally feel safer if I wear my glasses or contacts so I can better see what's around me. And my vision isn't that bad. If you have a strong prescription, it's probably a good idea to wear glasses or contacts. Related to that, if you have sensitive eyes, wear sunglasses when running at dusk so sun glare doesn't prevent you from seeing cars or communicating with drivers.

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3. Run on the sidewalk wherever possible.
Though it's legal in many states for runners to use the roads or sidewalks, it's always good to have some space between you and the multi-ton metal machines, especially on narrow streets.

4. If there is no sidewalk, run facing traffic.
In the absence of a sidewalk, the safest place to run is on the left side of the road, where drivers can see you and you can see cars approaching. That is, except when you're approaching a blind curve. If you can't see around a curve, neither can a driver coming the other way. About 300 feet before the curve, cross to the right side of the road. When the road straightens (and traffic permits), return to the left side.

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5. Imagine that drivers can't see you. Even if it's broad daylight and you're lit up like a Christmas tree while running in a marked pedestrian crossing, it's best to wait to proceed until A) you make eye contact with the driver and they come to a complete stop or wave you on or B) you wait for them to pass. When running up a steep hill, a driver on the other side may not be able to see you. Prepare to step off to the side of the road until you've crested the hill. If you notice a car with its reverse lights on, stop and wait until they either back up or wave you ahead. Also, in the early morning, especially during the colder months, look out for motorists who have not cleared dew or frost from their windshields; they may not be able to see you clearly.

6. Be extra cautious at intersections.
Wait until the traffic light is red and all vehicles are stopped before proceeding. If it's a stop sign, wait until the vehicle has come to a complete stop. When determining if it's safe to cross, remember to also look BEHIND you as there may be a car approaching that's about to turn into the intersection. Parking lots and driveways are also high-alert areas.

7. Be prepared to move
. Many motorists, when possible, prefer to move over several feet when they see a runner or bicyclist, but no runner should count on that action. When a car is approaching, be prepared to step off the road and onto adjacent dirt or grass, especially on narrow streets when cars are driving in both directions. And if you're running with one or more people, go single file when cars approach.

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8. Carry ID. If something were to happen on a run and medical professionals were called, most people would be unidentifiable. That's why it's important to carry identification and/or emergency contact information when you run. This is doubly true for people with medical conditions or drug allergies. Tuck your driver's license in a pocket or get a fabric bracelet or shoe pouch with a metal ID plate from retailers like RoadID.com. And, if it makes you feel safer, carry your cell phone. I take my phone on every run. Period. I feel silly even bringing this up, but if you do carry your phone and you receive a call or message while running, it's best to stop or wait until you're done to talk or respond.

9. Wear bright or reflective clothing.
This may sound obvious, but don't wear dark clothing when running in the evening or early morning. Wear clothing that's bright or has reflective details or get a reflective running vest or belt to wear over clothes that aren't highly visible. For increased visibility, consider clip-on lights that either blink or glow continuously.

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10. Don't get aggressive with drivers. If a driver pulls out in front of you or doesn't give you much room, resist the urge to shout, slap the car, or extend a certain finger. Take the lead in promoting road safety, not road rage-take a breath, count to 10, and let them go. Alternatively, acknowledge drivers with a polite wave if they move over to the other side of the road for you or wave you in front of them. They will feel more inclined to do it again for someone else.

How do you stay safe when running or exercising? Have you or anyone you know been hit by a car while running?

Susan Rinkunas is an associate editor at Runner's World, a magazine (and website) that informs, advises, and motivates runners of all ages and abilities-and we mean it. Her blog on Yahoo! Shine offers tips on running technique, nutrition and weight loss, shoes and apparel, and balancing fitness and life.

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