According to the U.S. National Highways & Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA):
Walking is not only a healthy activity and an alternative to driving, but also a great way to maintain a healthy lifestyle. But for many of us, the automobile has made it too easy to lead a sedentary lifestyle. "Why walk when it is so much easier to ride there quickly and comfortably?" Indeed, this notion is so widespread that 59 percent of older Americans do not walk or exercise regularly.
Walking is a form of transportation that also has the added benefit of being a healthy activity. Because walking is second nature to us, we forget that it is not only good exercise, it also enables us to get where we need to go under our own steam, without having to rely on a vehicle.
By substituting walking for driving, when practical, older adults can extend the number of years they are able to drive. Medical experts warn that a lack of regular physical activity and the effects of natural aging lead to a 20 to 40 percent muscle loss. With that amount of muscle loss, you could have difficulty walking, getting out of a chair, and driving. Doctors also tell us it is never too late to start an exercise program; even people in their 90s can benefit from walking several times a week.
In their useful booklet “Take a Walk!” the AARP offers more excellent advice to seniors who choose to walk instead of driving.
- Pedestrian signals come in many types and sizes, including countdown indicators to indicate the signal is going to change soon. Some pedestrian signals emit a sound to help guide pedestrians with visual impairments. Always use sidewalks and a marked crosswalk when one is available and learn how the signals in your community function. At intersections that have pedestrian signals, always obey the message on the signal. If the signal shows “DON’T WALK,” do not start crossing the street!
- While walking, regardless of the time of year, you should always dress to be seen! Although the temperature may be more comfortable for walking during some winter months, the lower angle of the sun and decreased number of daylight hours make it harder for drivers to see pedestrians. In addition, the presence of ice or snow may make walking more difficult.
- You should always cross a street at the corner/intersection or at a marked crosswalk. Drivers are less likely to be on the lookout for pedestrians between intersections and are more likely to be driving faster. Even at intersections, you should look in all directions before crossing. Look left-right-left. If no vehicles are approaching, begin crossing the street. At intersections, continue to look for traffic in all directions, especially for vehicles turning right on red. Drivers making this turn may be more focused on oncoming traffic and not be aware of pedestrians on their right.
- Parking lots pose many dangers to pedestrians because drivers may be distracted and have poor visibility. Use marked pedestrian paths in parking lots if they are available. Be aware of engine noise and vehicles with back-up lights activated. Be especially alert for cars that are occupied and running. If you are wearing headphones or an earpiece for your cell phone, you should remove them in parking lots and at intersections, so you can listen for approaching traffic.
- If there is no sidewalk, you need to use extra caution. Walk facing oncoming traffic so that you and all drivers can see each other. Before crossing the road, make sure that you make eye contact with the drivers so they see you and understand your intention to cross the road. PAUSE before you enter the roadway.
- While wearing light-colored clothing may help, it may not provide enough contrast for a motorist to see you as you cross the street. Wearing a reflective wrist band, a reflective safety vest, or even carrying a flashlight allows drivers to see you better and reduces the risk of your being struck by a passing vehicle.
- More than half of all pedestrian deaths occur after 6:00 p.m and before 6:00 a.m. In 2006, 69% of all pedestrian fatalities occurred at night.
- About 33% of all pedestrians killed have a blood alcohol level above the legal limit. Alcohol and prescription drugs can affect the judgment and perception of both drivers and pedestrians. If you plan to walk, limit any alcohol consumption, especially in the evenings. You should also ask your doctor about any effects your medications might have on your vision, balance, or judgment.
- All you need to begin walking is a comfortable pair of shoes. When walking for fitness, make sure you stretch and warm up properly before walking and remember to stay hydrated before, during, and after your walk, even on cooler days.
So be careful, be prepared… but most importantly, have fun exploring your neighborhood on foot!