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A New Distraction: Selfies Behind the Wheel

Taking a self-portrait —a “selfie” —with a camera phone is popular; so much that the term was added to the Oxford English Dictionary.  A driver, who is taking a selfie, is looking into a camera, and in turn, not focusing on the road.  Unfortunately, the popular self-portrait has been added to the long list of driving distractions; a list of actions that should never be done while driving a vehicle.

Instagram, the popular app used by millions of budding photographers, shows more than 3,727 posts under the #drivingselfie hashtag, more than 1,869 under #drivingselfies, and more than 9,700 for #drivingtowork.  According to a report from CNN, some even use the tag #Ihopeidontcrash.  If you think that drivers are the only ones posting selfies, you can view pictures of people operating motorcycles, boats, and even planes.

Stop the “Selfies”

The Federal Department of Transportation (DOT) estimates that distracted driving causes more than 3,300 deaths every year.  Taking that photo may only take a moment, but a car going 60 mph can travel 176 feet in two seconds, or about half the length of a football field.  A car going 60 mph can travel the distance of one and a half football fields in the time it takes a driver to create a six-second video.  If a driver is absorbed in his/her selfie, it will be too late to react to that speeding car behind, in front, or coming right at her.

There are currently 12 U.S. states that ban the use of hand-held cellphones while driving.  For example, under California law, use of hand-held cellphones while driving is illegal and drivers, under 18, are also prohibited from using hands-free cellphones. California drivers, who take selfies, are documenting themselves breaking the law.

Safety advocates have worked to make drivers aware of the dangers of driving while distracted, whether talking on the phone, texting or posing for a picture.  For example, Toyota has a “Don’t Shoot and Drive” ad aimed at Instagram-happy drivers. The ad shows a totaled car edited with various Instagram filters. Additionally, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has its own campaign targeted to teenage drivers. According to the NHTSA, car crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers, with distracted driving a factor in 12% of fatal accidents.

According to the 2011 National Occupant Protection Use Survey, about 660,000 drivers use cellphones or other electronic devices during the day.  While many drivers know about the dangers, they engage in distracting activities anyway.  The next selfie you take while driving, may be your very last.  How many selfies will you take?


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