MEEKER | As another school year begins, I have been having pedestrian thoughts. Literally, thoughts about walking. Trying to cross a busy street in both rural and urban areas these days can be a nightmare for one reason—texting while driving.
While there are specific zones set aside for walkers, everyone is so distracted by their cell phones they sometimes screech to a stop halfway through. Other times they run the crosswalks. As a regular ambler, I have noticed a specific phenomenon that only happens when someone is looking down at their device. They don’t appear to hear any noises or see movements outside the car, much less pay attention to movement or noises inside the vehicle.
There was a time quite a long time ago that pedestrians did not have to worry at all. There weren’t many of us and little traffic. One of my students asked her mother why she saw me walking everywhere in all kinds of weather. “She is walking to stay fit and healthy” one mother reported answering. Not many people knew that I didn’t have a drivers license in those early years living here and hated to drive, as well I overheard one of the guests at a local meet and greet describe me as Meeker’s newest “Earth Mother”, as I took off my muddy boots on the mat near the front door.
It was amid one boom year that Meeker experienced a visible challenge with the town’s streets. The heavy truck traffic on Market Street made it difficult to cross, so one would come upon small groups of children waiting for the moment to attempt to cross and be on time for school. The times of a recent boom slipped away, The new elementary school’s location increased the number of students riding the bus, and the daily pedestrian count dwindled.
It would be helpful if the statistics collected over the years could include the number of people who use their feet as their main source of transportation, as well as the number of accidents involving cell phone use. Maybe someone has already assembled some kind of a record of this, but most people won’t admit that they looked away from the windshield to just check who tried to call them. It is especially tricky to prove when there aren’t enough pedestrians around to notice the license plate numbers and make of the vehicle. Most walkers wear their headphones on and their cell phones close at hand.
The safety of the youngest pedestrians among us has been compromised by the increased use of devices by the adults charged with the authority to get them to and from school. Bus drivers and school staff tell stories of close calls with students both coming and going to school. These stories started shortly before the new elementary school was built, but continued to increase each year. One might think the new location would be ideal as it was not in the center of town, yet the rapid growth of cell phone usage all over the country has continued to churn out an even bigger share of digitally addicted adults. The list of excuses used regularly for school-related problems have taken on a whole new dimension.
“Officer, I was waiting here all the time. It is the other driver’s fault.”
That is often the first excuse someone in charge hears after an incident has occurred. Parents have been telling students “listen and learn” for years. Teachers are now telling parents at the beginning of every school year about the safety hazards of kids traveling to school by foot, bicycle, car or bus. It’s time for us to take a little time out and see what really happens during that first week of school. All of us would do well to remember another old-fashioned saying, “Watch and learn.”
By Dolly Viscardi | Special to the Herald Times