“Selfie” may have been 2013’s word of the year, but the practice of snapping self-portraits to post to sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram is creating new problems for law enforcement officials. As CNN recently reported, hashtags like #drivingselfie, #drivingselfies, and #drivingtowork are prompting a new trend among social media users, who snap photos and post them while behind the wheel. A recent article by Huffington Post counted more than three million photos on Instagram under driving-related hashtags.
While some of these photos may be snapped while drivers are at a complete stop, the danger with phone use while driving is that often drivers finalize posts after they’re in motion. According to Sharon Gilmartin, an analyst from the American Automobile Association (AAA), looking away from the road for only two seconds doubles a driver’s risk of getting an accident. Posing and snapping a photo generally takes longer than two seconds, with an additional three seconds or more to post the photo and compose a creative comment to go with it.
Distracted driving has become one of the top dangers behind the wheel, falling just behind driving under the influence. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than nine people are killed and 1,000 people are injured each day in crashes where the driver was either visually, manually, or cognitively impaired behind the wheel. Because social media use engages a driver’s hands, eyes, and mind, it poses a greater danger than eating, which requires a driver to only periodically take his or her eyes off the road.
Criminal defense lawyers are seeing an increase in cases where drivers were impaired by social media use. While each state has its own texting-and-driving laws, when distracted driving causes a death, the driver who is at fault may be charged with a felony and subject to both criminal and civil penalties. In many states, simply being caught texting and driving results in a misdemeanor that comes with fines.
Social Media Laws
Most states don’t address social media directly, although some states ban cell phone use altogether while behind the wheel. Louisiana gained attention in 2013 by banning social media use while driving, although the law doesn’t specify such behaviors as snapping photos or videos while driving.
So far, the laws have been years behind the technology, with many states allowing drivers to continue to text and drive legally for several years after texting became mainstream. Once the nation has implemented social media bans, they’ll be challenged with drivers who continue to snap pictures while going 70 miles per hour down the interstate. Addressing camera use while driving won’t cover wearable technologies, such as Google Glass, which is still technically legal behind the wheel in most states. Many states have attempted to put a blanket statement over the behavior by proposing laws that ban “distracted driving,” but one Google Glass wearer is challenging her ticket, illustrating that the laws need to be more clearly defined when it comes to what a driver can and can’t do behind the wheel.
Don’t Selfie and Drive
As the practice of driver selfies continues, companies are stepping forward to reach the large number of teens now participating. Last year, Toyota reached out to teens with an ad that showcased a crashed car through a series of Instagram filters and the tagline, “don’t shoot and drive.”
The practice of taking selfies while driving is perhaps most disturbing because of its appeal to teens, who are often inexperienced behind the wheel in the first place. By continuing to toughen and enforce laws, states may be able to prevent some of the many deaths distracted driving causes each year.
Selfies — for their positive and negative components — will be a trend throughout many events at SMW14. Make sure you join us starting January 15th to explore this topic more!
Larry is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter at @LarryAlton3 and LinkedIn.