Frequency of the word “selfie” in the English language has increased by 17,000 percent in the past year, according to Oxford Dictionaries, which crowned the narcissistic love child of cellphone cameras and social media “Word of the Year 2013” on Monday. But it’s the rising frequency of selfies snapped from the wheel that concerns another venerable organization, AAA, the group formerly known as the American Automobile Association.
“Selfies are a relatively new phenomenon so we don’t have [traffic accident] data specifically related to selfies, but we do know any use of cellphones increases crash risk,” Sharon Gilmartin, a AAA analyst for traffic safety policy, told NBC News.
While there’s no statistics specifically connecting selfies and traffic fatalities, a quick review of review of the many hashtags labeling such risky self-portraits and videos shared on Instagram and Twitter is enough evidence to raise the concern of the AAA — not to mention any one riding in an automobile: #drivingselfie, #drivingfast, #drivingtowork and #drivingintherain are a few recently cited by the AAA Mid-Atlantic in a recent press release.
(The regional branch also called out the ridiculous trend of illustrating the effectiveness of the water-repelling product, Rain-X. The unsponsored and ill-advised hashtag #rainx contains not selfies, but shots of water beads on windshields, and even one of a speedometer, showing that the photo was taken while driving in the rain at 70 miles per hour.)
Tumblrs such as “Selfies at Serious Places” and “Selfies at Funerals” make us clutch our pearls in communal judgement. Yet is there any more inappropriate place to take your own photo than behind the wheel, hurtling down the highway, thus risking not only your life, but, say, mine?
“Taking a selfie while driving means your hands and your attention are otherwise occupied,” Gilmartin said. “Taking your eyes off the road for two seconds doubles your risk of crashing,” she added. Most people take a lot longer than two seconds to compose the perfect duck face. But it’s not just pictures, it’s videos too. A Twitter vine video can last up to 6 seconds, and Instagram videos, anywhere from 3 to 15 seconds.
Even taking selfies at a stop sign isn’t risk-free, Gilmartin pointed out, and may still count as illegal if you live in a state where using cellphone while operating a motor vehicle is a crime. “There’s a public perception that when you’re stopped at a stop sign or a stop light that it’s safe to take selfies,” she said. “That’s not the case. When you’re operating a motor vehicle, it means that the keys are in the ignition and the engine is running.”
If statistics and the deadly physics of snapping your photo while operating a two-ton piece of metal isn’t enough of an illustration, Gilmartin pointed out that the driving selfies with the hashtag #ihopeidontcrash “reinforces that this is a dangerous activity.”