Crossing the street becomes a lost survival skill
In a big-box store parking lot the other morning, a woman who had been strolling along stopped, stretched her arms overhead, then removed her hair clip. She leisurely twisted her locks into a fresh up-do and replaced the hair accessory before heading off to the store.
She performed this activity smack in the middle of the lot’s driving lane, parallel to the storefront and about six feet in front of my car’s grille — as if my freshly washed, shiny white hatchback was invisible.
I sat there with my jaw agape at the sheer obliviousness. Though, on reflection, I should not have been surprised. There’s an entitlement lately among pedestrians that is foolhardy, dangerous and frankly quite baffling.
Like the alphabet song and the multiplication tables, some things get burned into memory at an early age and never are unlearned.
“Stop, and look both ways, before you cross the street,” was, I thought, one of them, as immutable and universal as the law of gravity and the sun rising in the east. Most of us drilled in that routine can’t even cross a parking lot, someone’s driveway — or for that matter a supermarket aisle without pausing and checking in all directions for approaching traffic.
Apparently it’s fast becoming a lost survival skill. Maybe it’s the bustle of modern life, perhaps it’s screens or the proliferation of pedestrian-favoring laws and crosswalks — with their bright yellow signs and flashing strobe lights — that are giving travelers afoot a false sense of invincibility. Whatever the reason, it is creating peril for everyone.
A report released earlier this year by the Governors Highway Safety Association found that the number of pedestrian fatalities in the United States has grown substantially faster than all other traffic deaths, up 27 percent from 2007 to 2016, while at the same time, all other traffic deaths decreased by 14 percent.
Pedestrian deaths account for the highest share of traffic-accident fatalities in 33 years, the report continued, and the authors estimated that nearly 6,000 people in the United States died this way in 2017.
Motorists I speak to who gripe about imprudent walkers don’t want anyone’s injury or death on their conscience but feel helpless and frustrated when pedestrians don’t hold up their end of the bargain by remaining alert, observant and responsive to traffic conditions.
I routinely see pedestrians continue without the slightest hesitation from sidewalk into intersections, looking down at their phones, not even checking whether traffic is approaching from the side street or about to turn through their path.
I’ve seen squirrels with savvier traffic instincts.
Most of the pedestrians I see now are staring down at the phone in hand, often with earbuds in. Not only is that dangerous, it impedes the natural flow of traffic. Another study released in June found that people using their mobile phones afoot tend to slow down.When I am aware that vehicles are idling, waiting for me to pass by, I speed up if at all possible, and at least give a little wave to acknowledge that I’m the hold-up.
Having the right-of-way in a legal or logistical sense does not mean one has the right to be inconsiderate, rude or oblivious to one’s surroundings. A little more consideration from people on foot would make driving a lot safer and more pleasant for those of us behind the wheel.
Melissa Preddy is a Michigan-based freelance writer. Reach her via Melissa @MelissaPreddy.com.