The alarming trend of taking videos while driving: 'Everybody does it'

Beth Greenfield
Senior Writer
Drivers using smartphones are wreaking havoc on highways. (Photo: Getty Images)

On Thursday, a young woman was sentenced for a crime that made for shocking headlines in July: accidentally killing her 14-year-old sister as a result of driving not only while intoxicated, but also while live-streaming her joyride — and then turning the camera on her dying sibling in a move that prosecutors have called “callous.”

While there’s certainly a lot to unpack in the details of the tragedy, the sentencing of Obdulia Sanchez, 19, has reminded observers of one relatively new element that set off alarm bells: the idea that driving while live-streaming on Instagram was something that she — and others — would do “all the time.”

“Trust me, it’s like a reflex,” she said. “Everybody does it. Everybody does. They take Snapchats. Why not? People take video of themselves in cars, like, all the time.”

Distracted driving has been a growing area of research, though it typically refers more to texting while behind the wheel. Still, a recent study found that the practice of taking videos — whether for a social media live stream or a daily story — is, worrisomely, rising in popularity. In 2017, an annual report on distracted driving issued by insurance company State Farm found that while the number of drivers who engaged in behaviors such as speaking on a handheld phone and searching the internet while behind the wheel had gone down, the percentage of drivers who recorded video with a cellphone had risen slightly — from 10 percent to 14 percent for all drivers, and from 23 to 24 percent for 18-to-29-year-olds.

In this July 28, 2017, file photo, Obdulia Sanchez, 18, appears in a Los Banos, Calif., branch of the Merced County Superior Court with her public defender, Ramnik Samrao. Sanchez, now 19, pleaded no contest to charges that she was driving drunk while live-streaming the July 21, 2017, crash that killed her younger sister. (Photo: AP Photo/Scott Smith, File)

State Farm found that most drivers who participate in distracted behaviors realize that it increases the likelihood of a crash but do it anyway — and that the more smartphone activities that people engage in while driving, the more likely they are to partake in other risky behaviors, from driving under the influence to failing to wear a seatbelt. Reasons given for using social media or taking videos while driving, meanwhile, included “It is a habit” and “I see something I want to share.”

Unfortunately, it’s also incredibly dangerous: Each day in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately nine people are killed and more than 1,000 injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver.

Ioannis Pavlidis, a computer science professor at the University of Houston’s Computational Physiology Lab, is a distracted-driving researcher. His recent studies examined the three ways in which the task of driving can be obstructed: if your eyes are not fully on the road, if you hands are not both engaged on the steering wheel, and if your mind is preoccupied. And while being impaired in one of the ways is bad enough, being impaired in all three ways is the most dangerous.

“Snapchatting definitely scores in at least two of these obstructed states, and potentially in all three,” Pavlidis tells Yahoo Lifestyle. Specifically, when you film, he adds, you lose the “peripheral sensing” that comes with your eyes being completely on the road, which adds to the danger even more.

Regarding Sanchez’s claim that “everybody” takes videos while driving “all the time,” it’s hard to know, as there’s no specific data available. But anecdotal evidence shows that driving is a common setting for shooting videos and live streams — and Sanchez’s case, while particularly horrific, is not the first time such behavior has garnered attention.

In August, Lori Loughlin’s daughter teenage YouTube star Olivia Jade Giannulli filmed herself driving home from a hair appointment and getting into a car accident, and detailed the whole ordeal in a video that she posted and then deleted after being criticized for her behavior. “It’s so sad … now that YouTubers are getting into car crashes because they’re on their phone or vlogging,” one fan commented.

Other YouTube stars, such as Zoe Sugg, known to followers as Zoella, have also been called out for recording themselves while driving — as has Raven Gates, of Bachelor in Paradise, who sparked a spirited Reddit thread after posting an Instagram video of herself created as she was driving.

“In one of the videos she even says: ‘Don’t let these glasses be a distraction. They’re actually really distracting me while I’m talking to you,’” wrote the critic who started the discussion. “Girl you are probably driving 50+ mph in a 3000 lb vehicle. You’re endangering the lives of yourself and others on the road all so that you can tell people to click a link in your bio. THAT is the distraction. I know Raven is not the only one guilty of this, and I know this isn’t the first time she’s recorded videos while driving, but watching her story today really made me cringe.”

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