Outdoor Safety for Those Who Stay Active in the Winter

Winter is just getting started, so it’s time to equip yourself for safety to reduce your chance of becoming an accident victim

By Eva Briggs

VestAs I write this in December, the daylight hours are short and snow is swirling. That translates to poor visibility and dangerous conditions for runners, dog walkers, snow shovelers and others who spend time outdoors.

Proper gear can enhance the ability of motorists to detect pedestrians and reduce the chance of accidents.

First, consider the color of your clothing. Light colors show up better in the dark — though perhaps not white in the winter, due to its similarity to snow. Bright colors — think fluorescent yellow-green, fluorescent orange-red, and fluorescent red — stand out in daylight. In fact, testing by the American National Safety Institute suggests that fluorescent yellow-green is the most visible in daylight, though the fluorescent orange-red and fluorescent red become increasingly visible under low light conditions.

For the science nerds, the wavelength of that most visible yellow-green is about 550 nanometers. It turns out that the light-detecting cells in our retinas are most sensitive to light at 550 nanometers. Add reflective stripes to enhance nighttime visibility.

Lightweight high-viz vests can be ordered from Amazon for less than $10, though you can spend more if you desire a sturdier model with more features. You might as well get two, and toss one in your car in case of a nighttime breakdown or other emergency. And if you don’t want a vest, you can get a belt, armbands or wristbands.

Next add some light. You can carry a flashlight or wear a headlamp. Or you can go a bit more technical with armbands, clip on lights, even shoe lights. Most lights have a flashing setting to make you stand out even better.

A few people take their bicycles out in the winter. If you do, strap on a headlight and taillight. For best visibility, also had wheel lights.

If you walk a dog, you’ll want to make sure he or she is visible too. One of my dogs is black and therefore disappears at night. The other is small and brown and can scarcely be seen against dry brown leaves. But for just a few dollars, they’re each decked out in a high-viz dog vest for their nighttime walks. Other options for canine safety include lighted collars, lighted leashes, and lights that snap onto the dog’s collar. An advantage of the vest is that it won’t be covered by long hair like a lighted collar or tag.

Don’t forget proper footwear to reduce the chance of slipping and falling. Several brands of shoes now sell footwear with Vibram arctic grip soles. They’re supposed to grip even wet ice to prevent falls. They’re pricey, but if they really work, they’re cheaper than a doctor’s bill and missed day at work.

Other options include various strap-on traction devices, such those made by YakTrax and Katoohla.

Eva Briggs is a medical doctor who works at two urgent care centers (Central Square and Fulton) operated by Oswego Health.