Exciting Warning – Walking (or Bicycling) Could Be Hazardous to Your Health!

(Last Updated On: January 4, 2017)

Van Fletcher, MD

by Van Fletcher, MD, UNC Regional Physicians

Now, that must have gotten your attention. I am writing about how to be safe when you walk. So many people walk or run early in the morning, or later after work, when it is getting dark, or is already dark. Almost never do I see adequate reflective materials being worn – folks, frankly, you are INVISIBLE to drivers. The headlights illuminate your path, but they do not illuminate you nearly enough for your safety. As a matter of fact, the effect of the oncoming headlights is to make you less able to see well, increasing the chance you might trip or fall into oncoming traffic. I see people walking along main roads next to the curbing (when there is no sidewalk), and they are presuming that an oncoming driver is paying full attention. Also, the driver may startle at suddenly seeing you (because you are mostly invisible), swerve to avoid you, and endanger themselves, and you, and possibly another vehicle. Remember that many drivers have poor night vision, or early cataracts, affecting the certainty of their own vision.

The matter is worsened when there has been a frost overnight, and the driver’s windshield has not completely cleared. With rain, or even light drizzle, the droplets on the glass give a prism effect, making the driver’s visibility limited. Additionally, the periphery of the windshield, outside the excursion of the wiper blades, never clears from frost or rain. It is at the periphery of the windshield where your path will naturally be – bad combination, the driver has reduced clarity, and you are not visible either.

Bicyclists are even more at risk, as they are on the edge of the roadway and cannot get out of the way as quickly as a pedestrian. Reflective material and/or bike lights are a must, front and back; and, the rider needs to be reflective as well.

Solution is easy – buy a fully reflective vest to wear over whatever your top is, even if it is warm weather. I have seen some walkers turn a flashlight toward me as I drive, or wear a battery powered headlamp, and this helps me know they are there. But, that technique does not help a driver coming up from behind you (remember – you are invisible). The reflective vests are inexpensive, available at Lowe’s, Home Depot, Northern Tool and Equipment, Harbor Freight and Tool, Amazon, and many other sources. By wearing this, others may “catch” the message and do it themselves. That is a type of contagion we encourage.

Please, heed this reminder, think safety as you prepare to walk, run, cycle, or walk your pet. Assume you are invisible, and take precautions. By being wise, walking will not be hazardous to your health.