Image via @oliver_blanchard
A few months back, I examined photo-blogging trends of heroin users and other drug addicts (#nodsquad, #junkiesofig) who make the most depressing Instagrams. From pictures of people's drug stashes, to needle-bruised wrists and sleepy faces, the images felt caught up in some glorified vanity that embraces, challenges, and/or defies death. According to a recent report, a deadly activity—far less niche than taking painkillers and shooting heroin—is speeding down the highway pursing its lips just so.
It should come as no surprise that distracted, selfie-taking drivers aren't paying attention to the road for long stretches of highway at a time. Basically if there's anything that can be done with a cell phone, you can count on it being attempted while behind the wheel. According to the AAA, citing a DOT report, "in distraction-affected crashes, 385 [people] died in crashes in which at least one of the drivers was using a cell phone at the time of the crash." There aren't hard numbers on how many of these accidents happen before/during/after a selfie, but you can find proof of the practice on Instagram and Twitter under #drivingselfie, #drivingfast, #drivingtowork, #rainx, and #drivingintherain.
While most of the pictures I've seen in browsing the tag #drivingselfie haven't made me too jealous of the subjects' commutes, that's probably because I, too, have taken plenty of selfies on the road, and they were the most potent kind: Video selfies.
And yes, a #drivingselfie, while crossing into Ohio.
Of course, these video-selfies predate Instagram and for that I'm so much cooler than todays' drivers with Instagram accounts. But enough expanding of my ego. Despite my near-perfect driving record, and differences in format, aesthetics, or place in history, I was still being a dangerous jackass and proving that one of the many aspersions cast on Millenials is true: We know how to self-entertain, and we're trying to share that with you. #lookatus
Unfortunately, some people aren't as good at driving as I, and the AAA is concerned by the trend, just as patrolmen must be, because their jobs include scraping bodies off the road because some selfie-taking behind-the-wheel went wrong.
In Scott Broom's report for WUSA, he explains that his own media operation uses dash-mounted cameras for storm chasing and remote reporting. But that doesn't really constitute a selfie, as it's a hands-free system. Moreover, the art of selfie seems most distracting due to the attendant work of gazing down into a screen, getting a good crop, picking a rad filter, and diligently selecting some tags to optimize the artwork's searchability by other users on the platform. Twitter's Vine service and Instagram's recently-added video capability also have people taking videos of themselves gunning their engines through heavy rain. Example:
As the AAA warns, a 15-second video shot at 60 mph is enough time and speed to cover a distance of four football fields or 4.5 soccer fields. Aside from warning the wreckless selfie-snapping generation not to “let that driving selfie or video be the last photo you ever take,” the bulk of AAA's exhortations are based on the lengths of sports fields. Because what other type of spatial imagination aside from sports fields do young American drivers have—right?
Four football fields in a row. Image via Flickr/CC license
While the open road seems to me an unoriginal location for Instabraggers to practice self portraiture, will warnings from the AAA be enough to kill the trend? Or will it more likely be a shift in trending hashtags? Unfortunately for AAA, I don't think the genre is disappearing, and there are probably more bleak Herzog documentaries on the way. But in a time where trends shift and old art fads must quickly die to make room for others (like Selfies at Funerals), I have an optimism that selfies will find different settings—off the interstate—to blossom into other selfie movements—where the only thing you're distracted from is the world apart from your face.