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Social Media and Distracted Driving Among Teens

It is now 2018, which means that the newest generation of drivers was born after the turn of the century. This group was raised without memories of getting the first Playstation and probably have never touched a flip phone. They have been born into a culture of social media feeds and it is a world that they are the most comfortable in.

Teens & Distracted Driving

Although teens today have been told to “never text and drive” more than any other generation, statistically 11 teens are killed every single day in the US from using their phones – and this statistic doesn’t include anyone else who was injured or killed during the accident. According to research conducted by the Transport Research Laboratory and the Institute of Advanced Motorists, the reaction time of a driver slowed by 38% when using a smartphone, as opposed to the 12% decreased reaction time caused by drinking. That means someone who is using their smartphone while driving reacts three times slower than someone who is intoxicated.

When it comes to distracted driving, there are three kinds of distractions: manual, visual and cognitive. Simply put, a manual distraction is anything that takes your hand off the wheel, while a visual distraction takes your eyes off the road and a cognitive distraction takes away your focus. The reason why texting and driving is so dangerous is because it is a distraction in all three of these areas. While drinking and driving is solely a cognitive distraction, texting behind the wheel requires your hands, your eyes and your mind.

But using a smartphone on the road extends way beyond texting. Many teens use their social media apps more than they text. And some of these apps have become a particular danger in causing distracted drivers. The worst offenders happen to be the most popular social media platforms among teens: Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat. Most parents know what Instagram and Facebook are all about. Their recent updates have made them even more of a distraction when driving, but we’ll get to that in a later article. Let’s talk first about Snapchat.

What is the Big Deal with Snapchat?

Snapchat is a social media sharing app that was created in 2012 and has gained increasing popularity over the last few years. What makes it so special is its lack of permanence, meaning that everything you send is seen only one time and anything you post to your “story” – similar to a status update – will disappear forever after 24 hours. Now teens can share something over the internet without the risk of it staying there forever, while the process of posting is so quick and inconsequential that very little thought is involved.

This is a problem and let me illustrate why. If a teen sees a nice looking sunset on their drive home from work, they normally wouldn’t go through the process of pulling up their phone’s camera, taking a picture, adding a caption and then posting it to Facebook or Instagram. Most teens are hopefully smart enough to know that this would be a major distraction and not worth their time for a simple sunset. However, they might take a picture of that sunset and share it on their Snapchat story because they only have to push two buttons to take the picture and then post it.

This simplicity is what makes Snapchat tempting for teens to use while driving, because it’s “just a quick snap.” This mentality can result in anything from sending a quick selfie to sharing your favorite song on the radio. And while Snapchat might be deemed quicker and easier to use than other apps, using it on the road still involves more attention looking at the phone than a regular text would.

The Speed Update

Towards the end of 2013, when Snapchat really started to gain momentum, the app added more features that made it more tempting to use while driving. It added six “filters” to its pictures that can be sent. The first three filters are color filters (they make your picture black and white or vibrant etc.). But the other three filters are “smart filters” where now you can show the time, temperature, or speed in mph or km/hr. Yes, now users can share how fast they are going when they take a picture or video. This new filter adds a real problem.

I still wonder why they would add such a filter. The only time that a teenager (which is the clear target audience for the company) would be going any kind of significant speed that they would want to share is while driving in a car. Sure they might go on a train or a plane every once in awhile but the large majority use cars as the main mode of transportation. So the inclusion of this speed filter brings three problems for distracted driving.

  1. It makes Snapchat more tempting to use the phone while driving – Showing your speed to your friends is a greater incentive to take the phone out in the first place while driving.
  2. It encourages speeding – It allows all the rebels of the world to show just how fast they can go in their car. Teens might just want to show their friends just how much they are going over the speed limit.
  3. Increases the time used on the phone while driving – Although the simplicity of the app is what makes it seem “easy to use” on the road, a user has to spend more time looking on their phone to swipe through the filters to display the speed.

It was only a matter of time before we would hear about some poor teenager in a fatal accident going a ridiculous speed using this speed filter – and that’s unfortunately exactly what happened. While one teen survived in 2016 after sending a snap boasting a speed of 100mph, back in March of this year two friends got in a fatal car crash reaching 106 mph before swerving off the road and into the tree. Although the driver Christina Pavon-Baker survived, 18-year-old passenger Makayla Penn did not. Authorities believe that Snapchat was used and caused the crash. Pavon-Baker is currently facing charges for speeding, reckless driving and vehicular homicide.

Unfortunately, the problem of distracted driving doesn’t end with Snapchat. In the next part of this article, we will be covering the challenges associated with Facebook and Instagram – both of which have become a lot more problematic recently…to be continued!!!

About Author: Steven Palermo is the Managing Partner of Palermo Law P.L.L.C., a top Long Island Personal Injury Law Firm. Their personable, results-oriented approach has wrought them serious success in helping individuals rebuild their lives.

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