Walking Safely: Lessons from a Campus Tour Guide

Walking Backwards Blog

If there is one thing I know about myself, it’s that I am not the most coordinated person. I know this because I ran cross-country in high school, and I still have the scars to prove it. Even the smallest branch or bump in the road used to be enough to bring me tumbling to the ground in spectacular fashion.

This tradition of tumbling continued when I left for college and became a tour guide. If you have ever been on a tour of a college campus, you can imagine that it is not the best job for the uncoordinated. Leading the tours required me to walk backwards in front of large groups of people. On my very first tour as a freshly-minted guide, I ran into no less than five tree branches and several innocent bystanders, not to mention nearly being struck by a passing car.

Naturally, I improved over the years and I even developed a sort of sixth sense about what obstacles were behind me. I eventually had such an accurate mental map of the campus that it felt like I could give a tour while sleepwalking. Yet, even after honing my sense of perception to the point that it felt like I had eyes in the back of my head, I never got to the point that I was perfect. Every once in a while I still bump into something or someone while I’m guiding a tour and it reminds me that you can only get so good at walking without your full attention.

Since joining the Safe Kids team, I’ve realized that the lessons I learned while walking backwards are equally applicable to walking forward. In everyday life it can be easy to feel over-confident in our mental map of an area. Texting and walking is one of the most common ways that people exhibit this overconfidence. With our busy lives we can find our eyes on our screens, our ears covered by phones, and our attention everywhere but where it should be: on the path in front of us. When we walk distracted, we might as well be walking backwards. I can speak from experience when I say that it is truly harder than you might think, and sometimes the results are more serious that bumping into branches.

Our new research report reveals that every hour a teen pedestrian is killed or injured in the U.S. Moreover, teens make up only one third of the U.S. population, yet account for two thirds of pedestrian fatalities. These disproportionate numbers illuminate the real danger that teens face when walking today. A little attention at the right time however, can go a long way towards keeping us on our feet and safe while we’re on our way. Here are some tips to help ensure that your travels are tumble and accident free:

Quick Tips

  • Put down phones and headphones when crossing the street.
  • Make eye contact with drivers before crossing.
  • Be especially alert when it’s dark out, and make sure you’re visible to drivers.
  • Cross at a traffic signal or crosswalk, when possible.

While I’m sure that my days of clumsy calamities are far from over, I know that with my eyes up and my devices down, I’ll at least be able to get from one side of the street to the other safely. No text message or song is worth putting yourself at risk.