Recently, a young woman recorded herself on video, using Periscope, a Twitter-owned social media app, while she was driving drunk. In a slow, slurring voice, she repeatedly said she was drunk, had a flat tire and had no idea where she was. The app broadcast the video live to the world, and that’s what led to the police being able to find and arrest her.
The video then went viral online. Some people laughed at the woman, saying she was stupid for “outing” herself to the world in general and the police in particular, but in reality, her public admission may have saved her life or the lives of others. The police were able to stop her before she injured or killed herself or other people on the road.
How the Police Stopped Her
Several people who watched the Periscope video being broadcast live called 911 to notify the police. For the police who were notified, this use of social media to broadcast a crime in progress was something new. And, true to the stereotype of younger people being more proficient with social media, veterans on the force had to turn to one of their younger colleagues for help. He then set up a Periscope account in order to track the woman down.
All they had to go on initially was that she was driving a Toyota, but thanks to the sleuthing ability of the social-media savvy officer, they were able to identify landmarks by watching the video. This enabled them to find her — apparently, just in the nick of time. As they approached they saw her strike a curb and continue driving without braking her car.
The police stopped her, and observed the smell of alcohol, her slow speech, her bloodshot eyes, and her overall disorientation. She flunked a field sobriety test and refused to take a breathalyzer test. The police then arrested her. She was later taken to county jail.
This woman’s actions illustrate two of the most serious threats to safety on our roads and highways — drunk driving and distracted driving.
Someone is killed every 51 minutes in the United States because of drunk driving. That’s almost 30 people per day, and more than 10,000 people per year who lose their lives because of alcohol-related vehicle crashes. The number of injuries caused by drunk driving accidents is even greater.
The increasing use of electronic devices has made distracted driving a serious threat to motor vehicle safety, causing more than 9 deaths and more than 1150 injuries every day in the U.S. Distracted driving causes accidents for three reasons — drivers looking at their devices instead of looking at the road, drivers taking their hands off the wheel to type or navigate on their devices, and drivers who get distracted by thinking about conversations they are having on their devices, which causes them to lose concentration on their driving, even if they are still holding onto the wheel and still looking at the road.
The problem started before smart phones were on the scene. Back in the days of simple mobile phones, people became dangerously distracted by dialing phone numbers or getting absorbed in phone conversations. Now, with so many people carrying smartphones and tablets, the potential ways that drivers can become distracted continues to grow.
New apps provide new opportunities for distraction. Periscope, the video app that the woman mentioned above was using, encourages broadcasters to interact with watchers. People around the world watching the live-streaming video can send written comments. Users filming themselves while driving may be very tempted to read and respond to the comments coming in. They may also feel they need to fiddle with their phones to start and adjust the video stream. All these activities are highly distracting and dangerous for both the Periscope users and for people in other vehicles who have the bad luck to be in the vicinity of the distracted drivers.
Ultimately, the biggest tragedy of drunk driving and distracted driving is that the injuries and deaths could have been prevented if people acted more responsibly. But the reality is that we are all in danger from the irresponsible behavior of others.