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How to Plan a Walking Route

Walking Safety

As you discover new and different places to walk, always consider walking safety.

Traffic must always be taken into consideration. Particularly if you have to walk directly on the street instead of on the sidewalk, you need to stay alert and watch out for vehicles. Even if you wear reflective strips on your clothing, you may not be seen by a motorist. So walk defensively.


A special type of mask has been designed to filter the polluted air many people in urban areas must breathe. If you must walk near cars and trucks that spew out carbon monoxide and other noxious fumes, a mask of this type might make breathing easier.

Even when you have a nice trail available, and traffic isn't a problem, you may still have to look out for bicycles. Collisions can cause serious injuries.

In addition, some city areas are just not safe enough to walk through -- certainly not after dark. The best way to protect yourself against these possible dangers is to avoid these areas.

If you're planning on walking an unfamiliar route, you may want to drive through it first to check it out. If you find that you've walked into a dangerous area, try to carry your body aggressively, walking briskly and purposefully to an area where you will feel safer.

Look like you know where you're going, even if you don't. A person who looks lost is an easy target of street crime.

There are also some things to watch out for if you plan to walk in the countryside. Make sure you're not trespassing. Also, be careful that you don't get carried away by the beauties of nature and the music of the birds -- and get lost. Many adventurous walkers like to take along a pocket compass as a safety precaution.

Wherever you go, be sure to watch out for dogs -- the well-known scourge of walkers, joggers, and mail carriers. If you encounter a dog, try not to look scared. Just back away from it slowly.

Do not turn your back on the dog. If the dog looks as if it's going to charge at you, shout "down" or "no" in a stern, angry tone; this may help scare the dog off.

If the dog does attack, lift your knee up to help protect your body and hit the dog in the snout with a stick, rock, or your arm. Call out for help. If you've been bitten by a dog, seek immediate medical care.

For safety's sake, if you listen to music as you walk, make sure to keep the volume low enough so you can hear what's going on around you. Because it is so easy to get carried away by the music, your attention to your surroundings may not be enough to keep you safe.

Always be alert. Listen and watch for cars, bicycles, and other pedestrians, especially when you're turning a corner.

When walking at night, follow these basic guidelines:

  • Face the traffic as you walk, and stay close to the edge of the road. If a car seems to be bearing down on you, stop walking and step off the road.
  • Wear light-colored clothes. White is best. You might also try wearing reflective tape or a reflective belt or vest.
  • Carry a flashlight so you can see where you're walking; the light will also alert motorists to your presence.
  • Try to avoid walking on any road at night before you've had a chance to get familiar with the road during the day. By checking out the road during daylight hours, you'll know where the curves and ditches are.
  • Don't look directly at the headlights of oncoming cars. They tend to blind you, and as a result, you can't see where you are going. Instead, look off to the side. You'll still be able to see the car with your peripheral (side) vision.

To learn more about walking, see:


Peggy Norwood Keating, MA, Contributing consultant

Rebecca Hughes, Contributing writer