Attention America: Wear Socks Over Shoes to Avoid Slipping on Ice

Why didn’t we think of this sooner?

National Journal
Elahe Izadi
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Elahe Izadi
Feb. 13, 2014, 6:46 a.m.

Walk­ing around in the snow and ice that’s hit much of the East Coast can be a treach­er­ous un­der­tak­ing. But for­get fancy snow boots with grips. Just pull some socks over your shoes.

Yes, you heard right. And sci­ence proves it. 

Wear­ing socks over your shoes is a great way to get more trac­tion and avoid slip­ping on ice, ac­cord­ing to a real, ac­tu­al study in the New Zea­l­and Med­ic­al Journ­al, titled “Pre­vent­ing winter falls: a ran­dom­ised con­trolled tri­al of a nov­el in­ter­ven­tion.”

“Wear­ing socks over shoes ap­pears to be an ef­fect­ive and in­ex­pens­ive meth­od to re­duce the like­li­hood of slip­ping on icy foot­paths,” reads the study from Li­anne Par­kin, Sheila Wil­li­ams, and Pa­tri­cia Priest of the Uni­versity of Ot­ago.

How does one go about test­ing this meth­od? In 2008, the re­search­ers ap­proached ran­dom ped­es­tri­ans walk­ing down­hill on icy foot­paths near a uni­versity. They asked them to put on socks (of dif­fer­ent col­ors, for some reas­on). Not every­one was keen to get in­volved. One wo­man agreed to par­ti­cip­ate, then “in­ex­plic­ably turned to walk back up­hill and dis­ap­peared.” Most of those who turned down the of­fer said they were “run­ning late for lec­tures.”

Those who did par­ti­cip­ate, two-thirds of whom said they had fallen on ice be­fore, re­por­ted feel­ing much more con­fid­ent walk­ing on the ice with the socks on. “The only ad­verse events were short peri­ods of in­dig­nity” for some of those try­ing it out, the study ex­plains.

The re­search­ers con­cluded that be­cause the meth­od is simple, safe, and cheap, they “feel in­spired” to ad­opt the prac­tice them­selves.

Of­fi­cials in New Zea­l­and are all over this meth­od. The Du­ned­in City Coun­cil, where the study was con­duc­ted, ad­vises its res­id­ents to pull socks over shoes “to in­crease grip,” which par­tially in­spired the re­search­ers to test this out. Du­nedin­ites would know a thing or two about walk­ing on dif­fi­cult roads: The city is home to Bald­win Street, which claims to be the steep­est res­id­en­tial street in the world.

The re­search­ers ini­tially wanted to test the the­ory out on Bald­win Street but con­cluded that ask­ing par­ti­cipants to walk down the icy road “seemed eth­ic­ally and leg­ally un­wise.” The trio even­tu­ally took home a 2010 Ig No­bel Prize in phys­ics, awar­ded to “re­search that makes people laugh and then think.” 

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