Letter: Tower of Babel

Here we go again. Every eight years like a biblical plague come the cell phone drones. The same old arguments dusted off and tried again. Like a bad horror film the corpse of the cell phone tower keeps returning, seeking to scare us into submission.

If road safety is the argument, here are the facts:

In recent years cell phone use while driving is rivaling drunken driving as the No. 1 cause of accidents nationwide.

Each year, 21 percent of fatal car crashes involving teenagers between the ages of 16 and 19 are the result of cell phone usage. This result is expected to grow as much as 4 percent every year.

Nearly a decade ago, the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis calculated that 2,600 people die each year as a result of using cell phones while driving. They estimated that another 330,000 are seriously injured. Those numbers have continued to climb with the proliferation of the phones. Don’t take my word for it. Read the decades long in-depth studies by the American Automobile Association. It makes for sobering reading.

Rappahannock County is significantly safer to drive in than anywhere else in the region precisely because drivers cannot be distracted by cell phone conversations, dialing phone numbers or text messaging. To repeat, Rappahannock County’s roads are more safe, not less safe because it has fewer cell towers and less cell-phone usage.

Most of Rappahannock’s roads are two lanes, winding, undulating and narrow. Many have no shoulders and more than a few are unpaved. That’s how we like it, but there is no room for error. One glance to a cell phone’s numeric dial could be the last thing you see in this life. Is the potential loss or crippling of even one life worth the added convenience we’re supposed to benefit from by having cell phone service reach into every nook and cranny of the county?

Then there’s our quality of life. Shouldn’t that be taken into consideration? Notice the difference between dining at any of our Rappahannock eateries and almost anywhere else. Outside of the county, in cell phone land, every other table is inhabited by people yammering away on their cell phones in conversation with people miles away. Who among us hasn’t witnessed the absurd spectacle of a table with every single person on a cell phone talking to someone else? It reminds me of the delightful one-act opera by Gian-Carlo Menotti, titled “The Telephone,” where in order to make a proposal of marriage the suitor must call his prospective bride on the phone because she never has the receiver away from her ear.

In Rappahannock County, the folks at the dining tables are talking to one another – not loudly and obliviously into their cell phones. In eateries in Warrenton and Front Royal the cacophony of ringing cell phones is part of the normal background din. In Rappahannock, we enjoy the peace and quiet of a more civilized world. Do we really want to give this up? Restaurateurs and owners of B&Bs in the county probably understand more than most that the unique quiet and privacy afforded by the absence of obnoxious cell phone behavior constitutes part of the appeal for visitors and diners. It’s one of the noisome city things they come here to escape.

Like almost everyone else I too have a cell phone. When I’m away from the county I suppose I use it as much as most people, although after a couple of breath-catching close calls I try to refrain from using it while driving. Although I confess to its usefulness, each time I drive home and enjoy the view of the Blue Ridge I say a silent prayer, thankful that I live in a place with no traffic lights, no fast-food and few cell phones. I’m relieved I can’t get service and happy to turn the thing off.

There seems to be an ever present minority that isn’t content without being wired in, turned on, hooked up and electronically interconnected everywhere all the time. But is the trade-off worth it? The majority of residents don’t need the pervasive intrusion of cell phones in the bucolic oasis that is Rappahannock County. We don’t want the tall tower and flashing lights to blight to our view sheds, the added danger to our driving safety or the degradation of civility when strolling through our local shops or patronizing our local eateries.

It is not the responsibility of our elected officials to assure the profits of multinational cell phone companies or the income of their middlemen in Virginia. The government’s first responsibility, whether local, state or federal, is to protect the safety of its citizens. Before a decision is made regarding the installation of any more cell phone towers in our county a serious and thorough study should be made to determine how road safety will be impacted in our particular and specific environment. None of us would want to create the conditions for unintended consequences.

Simultaneously, considering the long-lasting nature of such installations and its possible adverse effects, we should have an adequate time for citizen feedback and discussion. To paraphrase from the recent front page article of the Rappahannock News, “I know that the Planning Commission will remain the good stewards that we know they are, and consider rejecting the application from AT&T for a cell phone tower, with or without balloons.”

Ron Maxwell
Flint Hill

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About Ron Maxwell 8 Articles
Ron Maxwell: filmmaker, dog lover, tree hugger; moved to Rappahannock County in 2003. He is currently prepping a western entitled "Belle Starr."