#Driving Danger: Instagram Posts Shed Light on a Distracted Driving Trend
According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), at any given moment during daylight in the U.S., 660,000 people are using handheld cell phones while they drive. These drivers may be talking, texting, or playing games – but one disturbing trend takes phone use a step further: taking photos and uploading them on social media, all while operating a vehicle.
To get a snapshot of this terrifying practice, we combed through over 70,000 posts on Instagram with driving-related hashtags, including #DrivingSelfie, #SelfieWhileDriving, and #HopeIDontCrash. In our analysis, we looked at where the posts originated from, when people most frequently posted them, which users “like” these photos, and what words Instagrammers mentioned in the posts. How does your state stack up? Read on for the full picture.
Driver Age and Cell Phone Use
Among all drivers involved in fatal crashes while using cell phones, one age group stands out: Young people aged 20 to 29 accounted for nearly 4 in 10 fatalities due to their talking, texting, web surfing, or photo-snapping while behind the wheel. Surprisingly, those aged 30 to 39 claimed second place for cell-related fatalities, followed by drivers aged 15 to 19. Starting with age 30, the likelihood of being involved in a phone-related crash declines steadily with age.
Distracted Driving Facts
Distracted driving is a serious issue facing the U.S. Thousands of drivers across the country use cell phones while they drive – and a surprisingly high percentage of those are using social media apps, including Instagram. This habit greatly increases the risk of accidents in various ways. Using a phone while driving leads to "inattention blindness," in which drivers fail to truly see some of their driving environment even when glancing up. Phone use also leads to slower response and reaction time while driving, as well as difficulty staying within the correct lane. Together, these issues can produce deadly results.
Mapping #DrivingSelfie Posts
A map of which states post the most #DrivingSelfies per 100,000 residents yields fairly clear trends: People in Western states – especially California, Nevada, Hawaii, and Washington – post more than their fair share. Florida and parts of the Northeast are heavy on #DrivingSelfie snaps too, while drivers in much of the Midwest and South appear less likely to pose for pics while driving.
Top States for #DrivingSelfies
Which states’ drivers posted the most #DrivingSelfies? Only four states hold the dubious distinction of averaging more than two posts for every 100,000 residents: California, Nevada, Florida, and Hawaii. Drivers in California and Nevada shared over 2.5 posts for every 100,000 residents, while people in Florida averaged nearly 2.4, and Hawaii drivers almost 2.2. What do these four states have in common? Thanks to Vegas’s slot machines and the sunny beaches of California, Florida, and Hawaii, all four are popular vacation destinations. It appears fun-filled road trips may fuel some drivers’ desires to share duck face snaps with their Insta followers.
Of the 10 states with the fewest #DrivingSelfie posts, nine are located in the South or the Midwest. (Idaho, with the fourth-fewest posts, is the exception.) Drivers in Mississippi are by far least likely to upload selfies from behind the wheel, averaging only 0.2 posts per 100,000 residents. Drivers in Oklahoma, Ohio, and Indiana are also less likely to post #DrivingSelfies. Interestingly, there does not appear to be a strong correlation between states’ distracted driving laws and #DrivingSelfie posts, indicating that the tendency to post pics from behind the wheel may reflect state of mind rather than state laws.
5 Years of #Driving Posts
The time-lapse map above reflects five years’ worth of Instagram posts containing a hashtag that incorporates #Driving. Each blue dot represents a single post. 2011 starts with scant postings, but the frequency increases gradually as the social network grows – and the habit becomes more pervasive. By 2016, #Driving-related posts are common across much of the country, and their frequency in heavily populated areas makes it difficult to see specific dots.
#Driving Posts Across the U.S.
To get a big-picture view, we zoomed out from #DrivingSelfie Instagram posts to focus on posts that simply have a hashtag related to #Driving. However, the map revealing density of these general posts echoes the #DrivingSelfie map: Posts are by far the most common along the West Coast, in the Northeast, and in Florida. On the other hand, posts are sparse in the middle of the country – especially the upper Midwest.
Top States for #Driving Posts
When it comes to #Driving-related Instagram posts, 8 of the 10 top states are located in the West. Hawaii reigns: With a whopping 97 posts per 100,000 residents, the Aloha state averaged 35% more #Driving-related posts than No. 2 state Nevada. Since its original distracted driving law launched, Hawaii has modified it to increase the fine drivers face. Three of the 4 top states for most #Driving-related posts are the same as the top states for #DrivingSelfie posts. The exception? Wyoming moved up to the top 4, and Florida dropped to No. 6.
The 10 states where drivers posted the fewest #Driving-related snapshots on Instagram are all located in the Midwest or the South. As with #DrivingSelfie posts, Mississippi averaged the fewest #Driving-related posts. Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, and Wisconsin are also on the low end.
When Do #Driving Posts Peak?
Weekends can make for busy roads – and busy Instagrammers on the roads, as well. #Driving posts peak on Saturdays and Sundays. They decrease on Mondays, hit a low point Tuesdays, and gradually increase as the weekend draws near.
Looking at specific months, #Driving posts spike in March, perhaps as travelers hit the road for spring break. January, February, and April all see a fair number of posts, and posts plunge during May and June. July sees a small increase, and in August, #Driving post action increases.
Since Instagram first introduced hashtags in 2011, #Driving posts have increased dramatically. Posts jumped 58% in a single year, from 5,213 in 2012 to 9,487 in 2013. But 2015 saw by far the biggest spike, with an 80% increase since 2014. Perhaps most disturbingly, only a few months into the year, there have been 57% as many posts already as there were for all of 2015. At this rate, 2016 will far outpace 2015 (or any past year) when it comes to Instagramming while driving.
Who Likes #Driving Posts?
Many of the states with drivers who share a high number of #Driving-related posts on Instagram are also home to people who “like” these posts. Based on population, #Driving posts in Hawaii garner the most double-taps with over five likes per post on average. Nevada, California, and Florida claim second, third, and fourth place for red hearts.
Words Appearing With #Driving
Looking at the words that frequently appear in Instagram #Driving posts gives a fairly decent indication as to why drivers post selfies. People are having fun, as words like “road trip,” “travel,” and “California” indicate – and they want to share that fun with their social media followers. Gorgeous scenery plays a role too, as Instagrammers frequently mention words like “sunset,” “clouds,” “nature,” and “beautiful.” Chillingly, the people behind the happy messages and smiling photos just may be on the path to destroy their lives – or someone else’s.
Analyzing #DrivingSelfie and #Driving-related posts is as sobering as it is interesting. Instagrammers in the West (especially Hawaii, California, and Nevada) post more than their share of these photos, as do drivers in Florida. Midwesterners and Southerners post the fewest overall. Weekends and springtime are the most popular times for #Driving-related posts – and based on the high number of posts in 2016, it appears the risky practice will only become more pervasive.
We all know the perils of talking and texting while driving. It turns out snapping and posting selfies can be even riskier. According to AAA, a driver’s eyes may leave the road for two seconds to snap a selfie, and in that time a car can travel 176 feet at 60 mph – nearly the length of two basketball courts. And capturing a video for Instagram – which now allows footage of up to 60 seconds – can distract drivers for much, much longer.
Play it safe on the road by vowing to keep your eyes off your phone. If you’re tempted to text, tweet, or snap a selfie, stash your phone out of reach while you drive (the backseat is a good spot), and pull over if you need to use it. You can also download apps that lock phones while you’re driving. Your life – and the life of others – is so much more important than posting a photo on social media.
We analyzed over 70,000 Instagram posts with driving-related hashtags over a five-year period. We included #drivingselfie, #selfiewhiledriving, #hopeidontcrash, #ihopeidontcrash, #drivingtowork, #drivinghome, and #drivingtoschool. For our “Percentage of U.S. Drivers Involved in Fatal Accidents While Using Cell Phones, by Age” graphic, we analyzed the most recent NHTSA data. For our “Cell Phone Use and Distracted Driving: Did You Know?” graphic, we pulled information from the AT&T “Smartphone Use Behind the Wheel” survey, the NHTSA, IIHS, and HLDI.