In April of 2016, Keene State College senior Abbie Sweatt was hit by a car while crossing the Elliot Street crosswalk. She was taken by helicopter to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire with serious head injuries. She was able to recover enough to attend her graduation in May.
The crash heightened students’ concerns about safety of crosswalks on Elliot Street. Additionally, it prompted students who knew Sweatt to collect signatures for a petition to request the city to do something to improve the safety of these crosswalks.
While the city is starting to make changes in order to make crosswalks safer, including flashing lights to increase visibility and a traffic island for pedestrians to take a brief pause while passing, it will not entirely solve the problem. Kurt D. Blomquist, Keene’s public works director has stated that distracted driving and walking will also play a role into making the crosswalks safe again.
Although distracted driving is a commonly discussed problem, the concept of distracted walking is a relatively new one. Even though it might be funny to laugh at the man who walks into a wall while on the phone or a woman who falls into a fountain while texting, distracted walking is a real and serious problem, especially among college students.
Incidents and injuries from distracted walking are on the rise. According to federal data on highway fatalities, there were 5,987 pedestrian fatalities in 2016 – the highest number since 1990 – and a nine percent increase from the data collected in 2015.
Using cell phones while walking puts both ourselves and others in danger. Over half of all distracted walking-related injuries occur in familiar areas, proving that we need to stay aware of our surroundings, familiar or not.
It’s not just texting either. Talking, checking e-mail, using social media and even playing games all contribute to injuries associated with distracted walking.
Students at KSC are rarely more vulnerable than when they are crossing busy intersections surrounding the college, such as Main Street and Winchester Street, which is why it is so important to pay attention to what is going on around us. While the city is working to make improvements to make crosswalks safer, it will only work if students are paying attention to their surroundings.
Lindsay Gibbons can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org