Everyone knows the dangers of texting while driving, but Erie Insurance is raising awareness of a more recent but equally dangerous trend – vlogging while driving. The trend involves popular social media influencers talking to a camera mounted on their dashboards to create videos for their followers. While the behavior may seem safe because it’s hands-free, an internationally recognized expert on distracted driving says it’s anything but.
“The research is absolutely clear. Hands-free is not safe,” said Paul Atchley, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of South Florida, who has been studying distracted driving for more than 20 years. “It’s your brain that’s the problem, not touching a phone. And we know when your brain is engaged by a phone call – even a hands-free one – the risk for a car crash increases.”
Erie Insurance showed Atchley several videos gaining buzz online showing influencers looking back and forth between their camera and the road, fiddling with the camera on their dashboard, and in one case, almost swerving off the road.
“As a car insurer that wants everyone on the roads to be safe, Erie Insurance keeps on top of the latest driving trends. This one is particularly troubling because the people doing it probably think it’s safe since it’s hands-free,” said Jon Bloom, vice president of personal auto, Erie Insurance. “We reached out to Dr. Atchley to shed light on what’s going on in the brain that makes this behavior actually much more dangerous than people realize.”
The answer, says Atchley, is that multi-tasking is a myth. People can switch back and forth between tasks but can truly only do one thing at a time.
Different Types of Distractions
To see how vlogging while driving, even with a mounted camera, is distracting, it’s important to understand the meaning of the term. A distraction is something that’s not related to the primary task. If the primary task is driving, then creating a social media video is a distraction. There are three categories of distractions: manual, visual and cognitive. In the case of videotaping oneself while driving, the manual distraction is taking hands off the wheel, the visual is looking at the camera instead of the road, and the cognitive distraction is “performing” for the camera instead of focusing on driving.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, eight people in the U.S. are killed every day in crashes involving a distracted driver. The risk is the greatest for young adults under 25 who are more likely to die in a car crash than the next three causes of death combined.
“I hope that social media influencers who vlog while driving realize that they are influencing a portion of the population that is more likely to die in a car crash than the next three causes of death combined,” said Atchley. “So not only are they demonstrating bad behavior, they’re demonstrating it to a group of individuals who already are at high risk.”
Atchley encourages influencers to set a good example. “I would ask them to do the right thing. Don’t be part of the problem, be the solution.”
“We realize the vast majority of social media influencers who are vlogging while driving are just trying to communicate with their followers in a positive way and are not intentionally doing anything harmful,” said Bloom. “It’s much more likely that they just don’t realize the danger. We hope that Dr. Atchley’s insights will encourage everyone to think twice and avoid doing anything while driving that increases the risk of a crash.”
There are no specific laws against talking to a camera mounted on a dashboard while driving, but 24 states and D.C. prohibit using hand-held cell phones while driving and 36 states and D.C. ban all cell phone use by novice or teen drivers.
Here are a few tips to avoid distracted driving and help you stay safe on the road:
- Put your phone in a safe driving mode to reduce distractions. For example, turn off notifications and set up GPS prior to heading out for turn-by-turn directions so you can avoid having to look down at your phone.
- Listen to a radio show or a podcast. It will help keep you alert but your mind will automatically tune it out when it needs to.
- Consider carpooling with another experienced driver to share driving duties and have a second set of eyes that can spot things you might otherwise miss. Conversations in a vehicle, not on a phone call, will ebb and flow with traffic demands.
- Play verbal road games such as “I Spy” to keep your mind focused on the road and defensive driving.
Erie Insurance is sharing Atchley’s insights and other information to avoid distracted driving and released the insights to promote National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, which is in April.
To see a video and learn more, visit erieinsurance.com/distracted-driving-2022.