Aug 21 2018

With kids back in school, safety of all kinds should be our No. 1 concern, particularly in the wake of the horrible school shootings last year, which had everyone on edge.  

Here are two things we can do with very little effort: Put down our cellphones while driving and lock up our guns. 

Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District — one of 35 divisions of the Virginia Department of Health, this one serving Fauquier, Orange, Madison, Rappahannock and Culpeper counties — has made the locking up guns easy. It dipped into its budget to buy 2,000 gun trigger locks, which are free to residents “no questions asked.” 

In meetings with citizens, the organization found top among concerns was not only gun violence, but  the area’s suicide rate, which is four times as high as that of the state’s. Recent statistics show 16.9 suicides per 100,000 people in the Rappahannock-Rapidan five-county region compared to 4.27 per 100,000 people across Virginia. 

In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported that while gun locks are used in about 71 percent of households with children under 12, lock use drops to about 58 percent when the children become teenagers. Yet it is the adolescent, the report said, “with their often impulsive behavior,” who are most at risk of suicide by gun. “The odds are particularly high if the gun is kept loaded,” the report says.  

The trigger locks, made by Master Lock, have a combination lock and fit on all rifles, shotguns and handguns. One thousand of the free gun locks are still available, and residents can pick one up at their county health department, or at partner distributors: Warrenton Pediatrics, Piedmont Pediatrics and Virginia Hobbies. 

We strongly believe in constitutional rights. With those rights come responsibilities. Responsible gun ownership preserves that right while protecting all of us. We will continue to follow this program with interest.  

A 2010 public service advertising campaign by AutoWeek, called “Goodbye,” compared cellphone use behind the wheel to a game of Russian roulette. The ad featured images of a handgun next to a bloody Blackberry. It is an image that sticks with you. 

In 2016 alone, 3,450 people were killed and 391,000 were injured in motor-vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers, according to statistics reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. During daylight hours, approximately 481,000 drivers are using cell phones while driving. Since 2007, drivers aged 16-24 have been observed manipulating handheld devices behind the wheel at greater rates than adults. 

Many states have laws prohibiting use of electronic devices that do not have a hands-free mode. Virginia, however, has so far failed to do so. In Virginia, only drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from using cellphones, including hands-free devices. Those 18 and older may use their cellphones. Texting while driving is prohibited for all ages but is notoriously difficult for police officers to prove, limiting infractions. 

According to the CDC, sending or reading a text message takes your eyes off the road for about 5 seconds. That’s long enough to cover a football field while driving at 55 mph. That can easily be more than one bus stop or crosswalk.  

Dutch Mandel, AutoWeek’s associate publisher and editorial director at the time of the advertising campaign, said it well: “There is no reason why you need to have a 6-ounce phone attached to your ear when you have a 4,000-pound car attached to your brain.” 

Hopefully, Virginia lawmakers can iron out their differences to further discourage the use of cell phones while driving. But this is an area where common sense can prevail. If your vehicle does not have hands-free capability, put the phone down. It can wait. If it can’t, pull over. Lives depend on it.

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