Placeholder texting and driving

In just a few hours, ghosts, goblins and Disney princesses will hit the streets in an annual door-to-door quest for candy. It’s all in good fun, an experience that every child deserves.

Also this evening, law enforcement officers hit the streets to protect children from one of the darker threats that they face. In Buchanan County, sheriff’s deputies traditionally go door to door to enforce laws requiring registered sex offenders to remain at home on Halloween evening with the lights turned off and no candy distributed to children.

With around 300 sex offenders living in Buchanan County, it’s a worthwhile effort. It’s also one that makes it easy to overlook other things that endanger children and young people on a regular basis.

It just so happens that two of these threats — drug use and distracted driving — came to light this week. The annual Red Ribbon Campaign occurs through today at area schools, part of an effort to get the word out about the dangers of drug use.

This campaign, named after a Drug Enforcement Administration agent who was tortured and killed in Mexico, is easily dismissed as society grows more permissive about certain types of drug use and cynicism lingers from the just-say-no campaigns of the past. But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about two-thirds of high school students have tried alcohol, half have tried marijuana and about 20 percent have used prescription medicine without a prescription.

These are risky behaviors that carry long-term consequences for young people. This is why campaigns like Red Ribbon Week are as important as ever.

Distracted driving emerges as a relatively new threat for all age groups, despite a silly law that makes texting and driving illegal only for drivers under the age of 21. A mobile phone creates a dangerous temptation for anyone who gets behind the wheel, but the lure of this technology seems particularly powerful for young drivers.

Texting increases the risk of a vehicle accident by up to 50 percent, according to the Missouri Department of Transportation. In 2018, at least 79 fatal accidents were linked to distracted driving, according to MoDOT.

State transportation officials got the word out this week with the third-annual Buckle Up, Phone Down day to develop good habits about wearing a seat belt and not texting while driving. MoDOT area engineer Adam Watson notes that texting while driving also carries potential harm to pedestrians, who happen to be out in full force on Halloween night.

It’s a good point. Let’s keep an eye out for danger on this Halloween, but let’s not ignore other risks that lurk out there on a 365-day basis.