Drivers are endlessly creative when it comes to finding dumb things to do while behind the wheel: eating, texting, reading a map, applying makeup.
But technology has now inspired an alarming new trend: drivers taking self-portraits, or “selfies,” with their smartphone cameras while in motion.
Idiotic? Maybe so, but these self-portrait artists aren’t shy about sharing their photos. Instagram shows more than 3,727 posts under the #drivingselfie hashtag, more than 1,869 for the plural #drivingselfies, and more than 9,700 for #drivingtowork. Some users add the optimistic tag, #Ihopeidontcrash.
On Twitter, a search for “driving selfie” turns up hundreds of images.
Not all the photos or videos shot by drivers are of themselves. Some are of their passengers being goofy or of pretty scenery zipping past. All this photo-taking requires using at least one hand to open a camera app, frame the shot and press the shutter button.
Not surprisingly, highway safety advocates aren’t thrilled.
“Taking a photo of yourself while you’re driving a 2,000-pound vehicle down the road at 50 or 60 miles per hour? That is putting your life in danger and putting the lives of those around you in danger,” said Jackie Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.
The trend isn’t limited to cars. There are also selfies of people piloting motorcycles, boats and even planes.
It’s not always clear from the photos if the vehicles are in motion or if the drivers waited until they were at a full and complete stop before capturing their very important moment. A few are group shots taken by passengers, which keep the driver’s hands on the wheel even if his or her eyes are off the road.
Governments, law enforcement and safety groups have been pushing hard in recent months to raise awareness about distracted driving, with texting receiving the most attention. For today’s young drivers, smartphones are rarely out of sight, and each ping announcing a new message can be a siren song that’s hard to resist.
If motorists are caught taking self-photos while driving, they could receive a ticket. Using a phone while behind the wheel, unless tethered to Bluetooth or another hands-free system, is illegal under many state laws.
And wearable devices may be the next target for enforcement. A woman in San Diego got a ticket last week for driving while wearing Google Glass, the headset that projects Web content on a tiny screen above the user’s right eye.
More than 3,300 deaths every year are caused by distracted driving, according to the Department of Transportation. Taking a photo, like checking a text, might take only a few seconds, but when a vehicle is in motion that’s enough time to cause a serious accident, safety experts say.
The phenomenon is alarming enough that Toyota has released a “Don’t Shoot and Drive” ad aimed at Instagram-happy drivers. The ad shows a photo of a totaled car edited with various Instagram filters.
So far, the people snapping rolling self-portraits appear to be mostly young adults and teenagers. Teens are the target of the most recent distracted-driving push by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. According to the NHTSA, car crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers. Alcohol, speeding and not wearing seat belts are major factors, but distracted driving played a role in 12% of the fatal accidents.
The ridiculousness of the trend may seem amusing, especially to the people posting the images, but safety advocates warn the potential for injury and death is very real.
“Driving is a really serious thing,” said Gillan. “Can you imagine if a pilot crashed and we found out that people in the cockpit were taking selfies? People would be appalled.”