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Snap Out of It: The Newest Danger Taking Lives on Our Roads

While hurtling down a busy dual carriageway at 100km/h in a two-tonne metal machine, it is perhaps needless to stay that one’s utmost and fullest attention should be afforded to the task at hand. Bluntly put, but true nonetheless, a car being driven at high speed along a busy road is effectively a missile amongst missiles. Traffic, road conditions, and a thousand other variables are entirely unpredictable, and a split second of lapsed attention, as we have seen countless times, is truly all that it takes for something to go fatally wrong. Despite the known dangers of becoming distracted whilst driving, a new and extremely dangerous phenomenon has swept the globe in recent years, causing an array of dangerous driving behaviours, accidents and road-deaths. The advent and succeeding popularity of social media platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram have presented road users with a new danger. ‘Snapping and Driving’, otherwise known as the video recording of oneself or one’s surroundings whilst driving, in order to post the videos to social media, has become increasingly common in recent years, and is a major threat to the safe driving practices that are necessary to carry out while sitting behind the wheel.

The RSA “Distracted Driving” campaign, launched in 2015, focuses on the various distractions that one may encounter whilst driving, and aims to promote absolute focus and undivided attention to the road whilst operating a motor vehicle. Initially, the campaign launched with the slogan “Don’t lose a life looking back” and aimed to deter drivers – particularly parents – from looking backwards to check on their children/other back seat passengers whilst driving. The video advertisement for the campaign, published along with the launch of the campaign in July of 2015, showed a mother “looking back” at her life with a sense of regret. The climactic moment of the advert occurs when the woman’s reflection on her life arrives at a moment when she looked back to check on her child in the backseat whilst driving. This split second of lapsed attention has fatal consequences, and the advert serves as a stark reminder as to what can happen when one fails to focus fully on the road.

However, according to the RSA’s website, the type of driver distraction portrayed in the 2015 advert is actually only the “second biggest form of distracted driving” on our roads. The single biggest distraction for drivers, they say, is the mobile phone. This is perhaps unsurprising, as the ever-growing prevalence of mobile phones in our lives has meant that, nowadays, they rarely ever leave our hands. Whether for work or social interaction, our phones have become incremental parts of our lives. So incremental that, for some, setting them aside whilst driving seems to be too much of a separation. The RSA states that simply making a phone call whilst driving – a phenomenon which has become all too common – can make you four times more likely to end up in a collision. Shockingly, texting while driving leaves you with the terrifying statistic of being 23 times more likely to crash. The RSA is yet to publish statistics pertaining specifically to the dangers of using of apps such as Snapchat and Instagram whilst driving, but one can imagine that the threat of causing an accident would be of a similar degree. We might not be aware of these statistics, but we are all aware of the dangers that are brought about by using picture and video recording platforms behind the wheel.

One high-profile case of a collision occurring as a result of Snapping & Driving was DJ Khaled’s crashing of his Ferrari whilst allegedly using the Snapchat app. Khaled, a prominent Snapchat user who regularly posts vlog-style recordings of his day to day life on his Snapchat story, allegedly crashed and wrote off his Ferrari 458 Italia whilst recording himself behind the wheel in Miami. The influential music producer fortunately avoided any fatal harm, walking away from the collision with some light bruising and a minor fracture to the skull. While no deaths occurred as a result of Khaled’s dangerous actions, it confirmed the prevalence and extreme danger that Snapping & Driving carries in our society.

Another high-profile case occurred on a Northern California highway road in July of 2017. 18-year-old Obdulia Sanchez, an Instagram user with over 5,000 followers at the time, broadcasted an Instagram livestream whilst driving intoxicated along the busy California road. As reported by the California Highway Patrol, Sanchez lost control of her car after it skidded off the road. Sanchez attempted to regain control of the vehicle, but overcorrected, sending the car flying violently off the highway until it collided with a barbed-wire fence. Sanchez’ 14-year-old sister, Jacqueline, lost her life in the collision, and her blood-soaked body could be seen in the video, lying lifeless on the floor.

While not many statistics specific to the use of video and picture recording apps whilst driving have been published, due to the novel nature of the phenomenon, it is clear from both of these high-profile examples, and undoubtedly many more that have gone unheard of, that the dangers arising from Snapping & Driving are very real. Its prevalence, particularly among young people, can be learned about quite easily. It seems that almost every person under the age of 30 has their own collection of personal accounts of witnessing and/or being involved in dangerous situations arising from Snapping & Driving. I spoke to one third-year UCC student about her own opinions and accounts of this phenomenon and, unsurprisingly, she had plenty to tell me:

“People are always snapping or recording vlog-style videos while they’re driving or stuck in traffic. I always get videos from two friends of mine in particular and they’re just recording a video while they’re stuck in traffic, holding the phone down by the gear stick. It’s such bad form, I always give out”.

The phenomenon of drivers recording themselves and/or taking pictures while stationary in traffic – for example, when stopped at traffic lights – is a common one, as there is an assumption that there is less of a danger in such situations. However, holding a mobile phone in your hand – or supporting it with another part of your body – whilst operating a vehicle in any situation is illegal. While there might be an illusion of safety because the car is stationary, there may still be an entire host of movement going on around you at any time. While you might be stationary, pedestrians, cyclists, and other drivers are still moving around you, so the entirety of your attention is necessary to ensure your safety at all times, as a UCC student points out:

“I get videos from friends on snapchat and it’s clear that they’re stuck in traffic, but that’s just as bad as Snapping while actively driving because you could easily lose concentration and roll into the car in front [of you]”. She is adamant that the dangers are high, despite the situation or how long the distraction lasts: “It only takes a second, just one ‘quick’ glance down, and you’re dead”.

Snapping & Driving may be a new problem, but it is certainly an extremely grave and prevalent one. Due to the lack of research and statistics into the area of Snapping & Driving specifically, I decided to reach out to the RSA with the aim of establishing a dialogue around this phenomenon and asking some necessary questions. According to my correspondence with a representative from the RSA, it appears that there is yet to be any specific campaigning in the works in order to tackle the rise in incidents resulting from Snapping & Driving:

“The RSA message is clear.  Don’t use a mobile phone – for any reason when you are behind the wheel of a car. This applies to situations while driving or when stopped in traffic”.

The representative then directs me to the “Driver Distraction: Mobile Phones & Driving” webpage, which details the various dangers of using a mobile phone whilst driving, as outlined by the RSA.

Whether or not Snapping & Driving will be campaigned against as an individual motoring issue in the future remains to be seen. We have already a seen a number of cases, as tragic as they are avoidable and senseless, resulting from the use of photo and video recording apps whilst driving. The number of deaths resulting from this specific phenomenon has risen, and will continue to rise, until a strong message is sent out, and understood by those who are otherwise ignorant to the consequences that their dangerous and irresponsible actions may have. If we can be certain of one thing, it’s that when it comes to taking pictures or videos while out on the road, we all need to snap out of it, and wake up to the utter life-changing tragedy that can occur equally in the blink of an eye, as it can in the flash of a lens.