Snapchat and Distracted Driving

A recent lawsuit has highlighted an increasingly common problem. A Georgia man is suing 19-year-old Crystal McGee and Snapchat, Inc. after he was seriously injured in a car accident caused while McGee was speeding and allegedly using the Snapchat app.

The lawsuit alleges that Maynard Wentworth’s vehicle was struck at 107 miles per hour when, in an attempt to see how fast she could go, McGee opened her Snapchat application and took a picture of herself. McGee was driving her father’s Mercedes home from work on a suburban road, with a posted speed limit of 55 miles per hour, just outside Atlanta when the crash took place.

McGee was using a filter on the Snapchat app that shows an overlay of your speed on top of a selfie. There is a warning on the filter telling people not to use it while driving. However, users are awarded trophies when they post high speeds. McGee even photographed her bloody face after the accident. Mr. Wentworth suffered permanent brain damage and is currently confined to a wheelchair.

If this were an isolated event, it would be tragic enough. It is, unfortunately, only one part of what appears to be a nationwide Snapchat and distracted driving epidemic.

Whether it’s texting, snapping selfies, using Facebook, or utilizing other apps, drivers being distracted by their smartphones happens all too common. By, what many call, an overly-conservative estimate, 8 people are killed and 1,200 people are injured every day in distracted driving accidents. In all, the National Safety Council estimates that 1.6 million accidents every year are caused by distracted drivers.

The Georgia lawsuit marks the first time that not only the at-fault driver was sued, but a third party- Snapchat, the manufacturer of the app the driver was using- was named, as well.

What is truly at the heart of the distracted driving dilemma? Is it auto makers, smart phone manufacturers, app manufacturers, or the drivers themselves?

In this case, that decision will eventually be left in the hands of a Georgia judge.

For now, I think we can all agree that personal responsibility plays a significant role. Habits form over time, and when nothing bad happens when we sneak a quick look at our phone while driving, we become conditioned to look again, longer this time. Too much research, however, has indicated that the human brain is only capable of focusing on one thing at a time. In short, a driver focused on a cell phone cannot be truly focused on driving.

Further Reading: Trucking Accidents Worsen as More Drivers Fall Asleep at the Wheel

Re-Training Your Brain

Drivers can recondition themselves to not be distracted by their smart phones. Make a promise to yourself to never look at your phone while driving. Make it easier to keep this promise by stashing your phone in an out of the way place such as the glovebox of your car.

No matter how dependent you are on your smartphone or cellular device, there are several ways you can keep yourself from checking your phone while behind the wheel:

  1. If you have little to no will power- remove your phone entirely from reach or sight- put it in the trunk if you have to. This will prevent you from being able to use your phone in a moment of weakness but still allow you to have your phone in the event of an emergency.
  2. For those with some restraint- use your phone settings to turn off notifications while in the car, or place it in the glove box. You can even turn on airplane mode to prevent your phone from alarming or beeping whenever you receive an incoming message or text.
  3. For the strong-minded- remind yourself to stop before instinctively looking at the phone while driving. Begin consciously making the effort and eventually it will become a new, good habit.

In less than a month you will have retrained your brain. The life you save because of it, just might be your own.