There’s no excuse for distracted pedestrian behavior

Look both ways

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(Nina Walat/ Daily Collegian)

By Alanna Joachim, Collegian Columnist

“Look both ways before crossing the street.” It’s a simple lesson that almost all parents instill in their kids from a young age. I grew up on a busy road, so I always heard the call of “Be careful crossing the road” as I let the front door slam behind while I grabbed the mail, ran errands or took my dog for a walk.

Coming to college, I assumed that most other students would share similar caution as I did all those years. The University of Massachusetts, just like any other large college campus, has high foot traffic, especially in between classes. However, I’ve witnessed countless situations where students cross the road mindlessly, forcing cars to screech to a halt to avoid hitting them.

After about a year and a half on campus, I too have found myself adapting to a similar mindset as these less cautious students. I have found myself crossing the street without looking several times and I rarely stop to let cars go before crossing, instead opting to move with the large flocks of students flooding the cross walks. I’ve caughtmyself doing so, and I am trying to actively change my behavior since coming back to campus.

I have especially seen a noticeable increase in distracted walking by students on campus since coming back from winter break. This may be due to students receiving new cellphones or headphones for Christmas, but I have seen more students absorbed by their electronics instead of watching where they are going.

In past years, distracted pedestrian behavior has increased greatly, most likely due to advances in technology that draw attention away from watching where one is going. In a study published by J Community Health in 2018, a group of 10,543 pedestrians were studied in two college campuses. Most of the people being studied were young adults, and over a third of those studied exhibited distracted pedestrian behavior, most specifically listening to music with headphones, talking on the phone or texting.

Distracted walking on campus can be more than just a traffic nuisance to cars and other students trying to navigate around campus. Not being aware of your surroundings can also lead to deadly consequences. At UMass, there have been many accounts of injuries and even deaths associated with pedestrian accidents on or very close by to campus in recent years. Just last March, a graduate student was hit and killed on North Pleasant St. in Amherst on a Friday night.

Other accidents have also been cited on campus in recent years, and most do not involve drinking or alcohol. They are simply a result of either a pedestrian acting in a reckless or distracted way, or the driver. In either case, a pedestrian has just as much responsibility to their own safety to be cautious when crossing roadways as drivers, especially at times of low visibility. (The UMass police department has warned pedestrians and drivers both of being careful when driving along certain roadways at UMass due to the sun glare at particular times of day.)

I urge students to seek alternatives to wearing headphones in a way that is less distracting, such as only keeping one earbud in. Apple has also recently come out with AirPod Pros which feature a setting called “transparency mode” that allows users to hear not only their music but also outside noises with the same clarity as if they were not wearing headphones. Although these particular headphones may not be an option for every student financially, they are an important improvement in technology that may help to prevent pedestrian accidents due to distracted behavior.

Just because students are on a college campus does not give them an excuse not to be aware of their surroundings or practice pedestrian safety. Streets on campus are still roadways, and students should be just as careful walking around campus as they would in Boston or another area with high foot traffic. There are certain parts of campus, especially at night, that are not well lit or have blind spots for drivers. Students cannot simply rely on drivers to stop for them.

Students should try other options for headphone or cell phone use while walking. Otherwise, they should put them away and focus on their surroundings in order to promote a safer community for everyone on campus.

Alanna Joachim is a Collegian Columnist and can be reached at [email protected]