Does Snapchat’s Speed Filter Encourage Reckless Driving?

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The Snapchat "speed filter" captures how fast you are traveling when taking a photo on the app. (Jackson Mitchell/Here & Now)
The Snapchat "speed filter" captures how fast you are traveling when taking a photo on the app. (Jackson Mitchell/Here & Now)

A Georgia teenager is the latest person to be cited for a car accident that may be related to the popular Snapchat cellphone app. Snapchat allows a user to take pictures and videos which are sent to Snapchat friends -- who view them for about 10 seconds before they’re gone forever.

The feature that critics say poses the greatest danger to drivers -- both from distraction and potential speeding -- is known as the "speed filter" The feature, when applied, records the speed that the user is driving at the time that he or she clicks a photo.

Police in Georgia say teenager Christal McGee was driving 107 mph at the time she collided with Maynard Wentworth, in a crash that left him permanently brain damaged. Maynard and his wife allege that McGee was using the speed filter at the time of the crash -- an allegation that Snapchat has said is false.

Katie Bassett of Safer America recently published the online article “Snapchat’s Facelift: What Dangers are Associated for Drivers.” She joins host Robin Young to discuss the safety issues associated with Snapchat and other phone apps.

Interview Highlights: Katie Bassett

On what Snapchat speed filter is

"It is a basic filter that they've had for a while. When you're either taking a picture or a video it shows how fast you're moving. I could be on a bike, I could be on a train, I could be just simply walking, and it will pick up the speed that you are going."

On people who drive faster when using the speed filter

"I think for the people and the users who are using it, it's just more the need to capture the perfect moment just at the right time. So if they want to get that certain speed up, they're going to do it."

On Snapchat's safety concerns for drivers

"The first one that I touched on was that the Stories auto advance. So you as a user don't even need to click through to watch each story, they just automatically start and continue and continue. I was speaking to Jeff Rosenbaum, who is a personal injury attorney in Philadelphia, and he basically went over that, just taking your eyes off the road for five seconds equates to the length of a football field. And so when you have these stories that are going over and over again, you could be watching them for up to a minute, and a minute on the road equates to I don't even know how many miles, but it’s pretty terrifying."

On the app's video calling feature

"It's very similar to face-timing. Their goal is to kind of take over the basic phone features and to make Snapchat the app for all, essentially. So video calling works the exact same as Facetiming, and we all know the dangers associated with that. you're watching someone talk as you're driving."

On trying to capture the 'perfect moment' with Snapchat

"You're making that small GIF that's, quick couple of seconds, able to replay over and over again. And with Snapchat, you want to get that perfect GIF, and you want that perfect picture. So you might be trying over and over again to get this perfect moment which could take five seconds, it could take 15. Regardless of the five or 15 seconds, you're driving and trying to do that, you're completely, 100 percent distracted from the road, and what’s going on in front of you."

On Snapchat stickers

"So stickers are very similar to the emoji's on texting. They just came out with over 200 new stickers that will go into the message or into the video , and so, with 200 options, users are just scrolling through and through, and not paying attention to what's on the road and to other drivers, other cars around them. And that's a big, big distraction."

On whether or not Snapchat will remove the speed filter

"I've actually heard talk that they're putting a cap on speed limit. But even then, you're not solving the entire problem. People will still get up to 60 miles an hour, the capped speed. So as far as solving the problem, I definitely think the Snapchat team can come up with ways for safer measures, but I also think it lies with the drivers. If you're not paying attention on the road, and you're the one that's going to be causing these accidents, should you even be driving?"


Katie Bassett, Safer America. She tweets @bassett_katie.

This segment aired on June 28, 2016.


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