Walking Safely
Walking Safely
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Walking alone during the day is one thing, but everything seems more menacing at night, especially for women. Many campuses offer self-defense classes, often free, and maybe even for a physical education credit. Investing your time in a course that will teach you how to defend yourself in case the unthinkable happens is one way to feel more prepared. The best thing you can do to stay safe is to walk home with a group of people, but there are steps you can follow to ensure your safety when walking alone.

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Practice good pedestrian habits.

If you’re in an area with sidewalks, as would be expected on or near a college campus, you’re in luck. You don’t have to worry about cars sneaking up behind you or having to walk in the grass along the side of the road. (If you do need to walk in the road, though, walk in such a way that you’re facing oncoming traffic. In countries where people drive on the right side of the road, walk on the left side of the road. In countries where people drive on the left side of the road, walk on the right.)

When it comes time to cross the road, pay attention to traffic, traffic lights, and pedestrian crossing signals. Not all crosswalks are going to occur at a traffic light with a corresponding walk signal; some may occur at stop signs. Either way, make eye contact with the nearest drivers, especially any who may be turning, before you walk into the street. If you’re at a traffic light with a pedestrian crossing signal, cross only when you have the light. Regardless of whether you have the light or there is much traffic, always look both ways (or, even better, look left, then right, then left again) before crossing. Pay particular attention to alleyways and driveways, as drivers may not be expecting to see pedestrians when pulling out.

If you’re walking at night, it’s up to you to make sure that you’re seen by oncoming traffic. Dress in light colored clothing; you’re more likely to be seen while crossing a dark road if you’re wearing white instead of black. If you’re a runner and you like to run at dusk or after sunset, run with a headlamp and reflective gear to ensure that you’re visible to drivers. Stick to sidewalks and lit pathways instead of the street when possible.

Remember, jaywalking is punishable by a fine in many jurisdictions.

Tell someone where you are and when to expect you home.

If you live with roommates or your parents, shoot them a text saying that you’re walking home through campus and will be there in however many minutes. If you live alone, text your best friends. Let them know when you make it home safely and make sure they have a plan of action to follow if they don’t hear from you.

Walk in well-lit areas on sidewalks that are commonly used and heavily trafficked.

The more likely you are to be seen, the less likely it is that someone will attack you. Skip the shortcut through the unlit park when you’re walking alone, and stay out of neighborhoods that are known to be dangerous (you can search by zip code here). Main streets that are lit by streetlamps are typically going to be the safest. If you do ever feel unsafe, go into a shop, restaurant, fire station, or other public facility to alert someone to the threat and put yourself in a place of safety.

Don’t talk on the phone or listen to loud music when you’re walking.

Even if you know exactly where you’re going, chatting with your mom or listening to music or a podcast will make you less aware of your surroundings and distract you from suspicious activity. Similarly, try not to text too much, as it will keep your eyes on your phone instead of on your surroundings. While this rule is particularly important when you’re walking alone at night, you aren’t immune from distraction during the day either. If you’re busy focusing on your phone, you may not hear a car honk or a bicyclist ring their bell. Distracted walking can lead to injuries (just take a look at the injuries caused by Pokemon Go), accidents, or worse. Save the podcast for when you’re riding the bus, the music for when you’re folding your laundry, and texting for when you’re no longer in motion.

Don’t be afraid to change your route.

Trust your instincts. If you see something strange ahead of you, change direction. Don’t necessarily turn around and walk the opposite way (unless that is your only choice), since it might draw unwanted attention. Instead, take a left or a right to avoid walking into an uncomfortable situation. Be careful that you don’t walk yourself into unfamiliar territory, though. The last thing you want is to get lost while walking alone.

Call for a walking companion.

Some college campuses provide companion services for students who do not want to walk alone. The University of Texas at Austin, for example, has SURE Walk, an organization that provides two companions to any student who doesn’t want to walk home alone between 8:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. any night of the week. The University of Wisconsin, Madison, offers SAFEwalk, which also provides two companions to students who would prefer escorts on their walks home in the evening and at night. Check to see if your college campus offers a free companion service. Students may also be allowed to call campus security services if they feel unsafe and would like an escort.

Hold your head high.

Be confident; walk with your shoulders back and your head held high. Don’t look at the ground or look away from people when you pass them, but meet their eyes for a second and then continue on your way. If you are confronted, make noise and call attention to yourself. If you’re being followed, change your route so that you are walking through populated areas and then call for help.

If you’re drunk or on drugs, call a friend or a taxi.

Walking home alone after a party in which you participated in alcohol or drug use is a bad idea. Your reaction time, perception of distance, and judgement will all be affected by substance use, and you cannot guarantee your own safety. In 2017, 32% of pedestrians who were killed in traffic accidents had a blood alcohol content over 0.08, making them legally drunk. If you’ve been drinking, call a friend or a walking companion for help or call a taxi for a ride home. Do not try to walk by yourself.

Use an app.

There are a variety of apps that you can download to your phone that will allow you to notify friends or family that you are walking alone, show them where you are on your journey, and alert your emergency contacts or the police if you get into any trouble. You can find a list of these apps here.

Call 9-1-1 in an emergency.

Do not wait. Do not call your mom. If there is an emergency happening, you need to call the police as fast as possible. Read up on what constitutes an emergency here, but know that generally, you’ll know an emergency when it happens. Any situation in which your or someone else’s life or safety is in immediate danger qualifies.

Page last updated: 03/2019