Dangerous place behind the wheel

A 29-year-old driver in Maine made headlines in August after crashing his car into a tree while attempting to take a selfie with his friends, injuring several of them.

The car was full of passengers, all in their 20s and 30s. Two of the seven passengers’ injuries were serious, and police issued a distracted driving summons to the driver.

The accident is the latest story to draw attention to a disturbing trend on the roadways: Not only are people texting while driving, but they’re also taking their eyes off the road long enough to pose for and snap selfies.

Statistics support the growth of this trend. As of late September, there were 22,067 Instagram posts under #drivingselfie. That’s nearly six times as many as there was when CNN reported on the hashtag two years earlier.

In an AT&T survey from May, close to 1 in 5 respondents (17%) admitted to taking selfies or other photos while driving. And 7 in 10 people confessed to engaging in smartphone activities behind the wheel.

“It’s a sad fact that drivers want to be doing anything but driving,” says Kara Macek, spokeswoman for the Governors Highway Safety Administration, a nonprofit that represents the state highway offices that implement programs to address behavioral highway safety issues. “There’s no way you can operate a vehicle and take a selfie at the same time. It’s impossible to do.”

When it comes to accident liability, drivers can get in hot water if they are caught taking selfies – or using their phones for any other reason, for that matter – at the time of a crash, says Peter Crosa, president-elect of the National Association of Independent Insurance Adjusters.

Even though drivers involved in accidents aren’t always forthcoming about their cell phone use, they can find themselves in serious jeopardy in terms of liability if it’s later determined that they were in fact using their phones, Crosa says.

“When we interview people who were in accidents, nobody admits they were using a cell phone or taking a selfie,” Crosa says. “But when a case is serious and involves injury or fatality, we do subpoena records of the driver involved. And frequently, we do find that they were on the phone.”

Taking pictures behind the wheel is a big problem, but it’s not the only problem. “This would be part of the broader issue of ‘distracted driving,’ which is gaining wider attention in the insurance industry,” says Dr. Robert Hoyt, Dudley L. Moore Jr. Chair of Insurance at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business.