#DrivingSelfies, A Dangerous New Trend

May 1, 2014

#Selfies, when people take photos of themselves and share them via social media, have been widely used to promote a positive self-image, make others laugh, and brag a little when on vacation or somewhere wonderful with a “Guess Where I Am?” teaser. #Selfies have been in the news lately. From President Obama taking part in the trend with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt at Nelson Mandela’s Memorial Service to Ellen DeGeneres’ “epic selfie” with a large group of celebrities at the Academy Awards, this is all in good fun. But, when this trend is promoted as a cool behavior behind the wheel, fatal crashes can occur. A 32-year-old driver recently died on a North Carolina highway while posting selfies on her Facebook. Taking selfies while driving is a poor decision for drivers of any age as this recent crash shows but particularly dangerous for teen drivers who already have more difficulty staying focused on the road.  

What can those of us in the traffic safety community do to help curb this dangerous practice? Taking stock of the trend’s prevalence among millennials is a good place to start. As a concerned member of this community, I recently conducted a brief internet search on this trend and here’s what I found:

  • Over three million pictures and videos have been filed on Twitter and other social media platforms, including Facebook, Tumblr, and Flickr, under driving-related selfie hashtags, including #drivingselfie, #drivingtowork, and #ihopeidontcrash, according to NBC News.
  • Since Instagram, the online photo, video, and text sharing service, launched in 2010, more than 10,000 photos and videos have been tagged with #DrivingSelfie or #DrivingSelfies. These selfies often carry other hashtags like #bored, #dangerous, #LuckyWeDidntCrash, #safedriver and #LookMaNoHands. According to the Huffington Post, that number rises to over 3 million posts when tagged with #driving, including nearly 50,000 with #drivinghome and 9,000 with #drivingtowork. Toyota has already responded to this alarming trend with a "Don't Shoot and Drive" ad aimed at Instagram-happy drivers. 
  • Vine, a mobile app owned by Twitter that enables its users to create and post looping video clips of up to 6 seconds and can be shared via social media channels, is increasingly being used by teen drivers. To make matter worse, according to a recent mashable.com post, millions more are viewing these clips, increasing the popularity of “vining while driving”.
  • The use of Snapchat, another photo messaging application, while driving is more difficult to measure since photo “snaps” can only viewed for 1 to 10 seconds and are instantly erased after they’ve been viewed. A popular internet site published results of a recent survey of 2,000 drivers found that nearly one in 10 (9 percent) of 18- to 24-year-old drivers admitted to using Snapchat while driving as compared to one in 25 (4 percent) of all drivers and 18- to 24-year-olds are twice as likely to connect to social media sites at the wheel than other drivers.

Evidence that #drivingselfies is a trend with dangerous consequences is anecdotal today. Let’s keep it that way. Like texting and driving, let’s monitor this evolving trend and be ready to respond.