A number of alarming new hashtags are trending on Twitter and cropping up on other social media sites like Instagram, Facebook, and Vine: all related to “driving selfies.” This is the dangerous – sometimes deadly – practice of using a smart phone or tablet to take a self-portrait (or a group shot) while in the act of driving a vehicle. The number of car accidents caused by distracted drivers will continue to rise with this trend.
A quick search for “driving selfies” on Instagram or Twitter brings up at least five wildly trending hashtags, including #drivingselfie, #drivingfast, #drivingtowork, and #drivingintherain. There is even an “ironic” trending hashtag: #ihopeidontcrash. There are somewhere in the range of 15,000 posts on Instagram alone under these hashtags, with more popping up every day – and this does not include the other “while driving” shots, such as passengers hamming it up in the back seat, scenery flashing past the window, and even beads of rain moving across the windshield (see #rainx).
While there is a long list of unwise and dangerous distracted driving activities, very few are quite as disturbing as this new “selfies while driving” trend. All distracted driving has the potential to be deadly, but there are a number of reasons this is such an alarming development:
• The demographic: The average age of “driving selfie” posters is 18. This means that the demographic already most likely to be involved in an accident – new drivers – is also that engaging in this dangerous practice. According to the NHTSA, car crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers, and even before this new trend, over 12 percent of these fatal accidents involved distracted driving.
• The level of distraction: Even the quickest selfie takes the driver’s focus off the act of driving for several seconds, as they are concerned about their pose and appearance, watching themselves change facial expression and trying to get the right “angle.” Taking any photo requires the use of at least one hand and some level of concentration to open a camera app, frame the shot, and press the shutter button or tap the screen to capture the image.
• The “trending”: Popular hashtags perpetuate themselves. Friends or followers see something funny or interesting and then often rush to add their own version – and to top earlier posts by being even wilder. The more “driving selfies” are out there, the more young drivers will be taking them.
• After the selfie: Once the image is posted on Facebook, Instagram, twitter or any other social network; the driver can then continue to be distracted by friends commenting, retweets, how many “likes” the post is getting and any other notifications that follow from the post.
Taking a photo while driving a 2,000-lb car in traffic and/or at high speeds can put the life of the driver, passengers, and innocent bystanders at risk of being involved in an accident. With the advent of smartphones, the number of distracted driving fatalities has increased, with nearly 3,500 deaths last year, expected to be even higher in 2014. AAA and other traffic safety advocates are pushing for legislation and public education to get out the message that taking a selfie while in motion may be the last thing a driver ever does.