Rise of Selfies Adds to Distracted Driving Problems Across the U.S.
On Saturday, August 29th, 29-year-old Jordan Toner of Hampden was driving himself and several friends through Orient, Maine, when one of his friends leaned in to take a selfie. Toner reportedly leaned into the frame for the picture, and ended up crashing into the tree.
Multiple passengers suffered broken bones from the accident. Toner’s official charges include failing to maintain control over the car while being distracted. Although the charge is not serious, Toner could also face personal injury cases in civil court due to his distracted driving. One of his friends injured in the accident suffered from a possible neck or back injury.
“Selfies are a relatively new phenomenon so we don’t have [traffic accident] data specifically related to selfies, but we do know any use of cellphones increases crash risk,” Sharon Gilmartin, a AAA analyst for traffic safety policy, told NBC News in a report dating back to 2013.
Numerous reports have shown that distracted driving is as dangerous as driving under the influence. The U.S. Department of Transportation cites that there are at least 3,300 deaths in car accidents caused by distracted driving every year. Meanwhile, a survey by AT&T in May this year showed that 70% of respondents use their smartphones while driving, with 61% of those being responses to a text message. And, although most drivers surveyed say that other drivers are more dangerous while they try to text, talk, or respond to social media while driving, many people believe that they can multitask better than others and are not prone to the problems associated with distracted driving. The flood of driving-related hashtags on Twitter is testament to this phenomenon: #drivingfast, #drivingtowork and #drivingintherain are a few recently cited by the AAA Mid-Atlantic in a press release. Twitter statistics include also: #Driving: 40 million+ posts, #Drivinghome: 80 thousand+ posts, #Drivingtowork: 16 thousand+ posts, #Drivingselfie: 21 thousand+ posts, and #Drivingselfies: 5 thousand+ posts.
“Taking a selfie while driving means your hands and your attention are otherwise occupied,” Gilmartin said. “Taking your eyes off the road for two seconds doubles your risk of crashing.”
Russ Rader of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said that taking a selfie even while stopped at a traffic light is dangerous. “It is still distracting … and driving requires your full attention.”
The National Safety Council reports that using a phone while driving increases the risk of crashing 8 times, and that 27% of distracted driving crashes involve a text message on a phone of some kind. Between January and June this year, at least 19,000 people – well over the estimates by the U.S. Department of Transportation – have been killed in distracted driving accidents, including those involving selfies. This is a 14% increase over the number of distracted driving deaths in 2014.