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Is It Illegal To Take Selfies While Driving? Depends On Your Definition Of 'Negligent'

The American Automobile Association of Northern New England warned today that drivers taking “selfies,” or self-portraits, while driving are “becoming more prevalent on the roads.”

And the people taking the digital snapshots aren’t shy about it. A search on the photo sharing service Instagram for the hashtag #drivingselfie returns more than 8,000 photos. Users on Twitter and the social video service Vine also have posted hundreds or thousands of photos and videos taken while driving.

As for the number taken in Vermont, it’s hard to tell, but at least a few were taken in or en route to the state, and Fox 44 reported last year that the trend has taken hold among Vermont’s high school students.

Distracted driving laws in the state have become more strict since then, with a ban on handheld electronics in work zones for all drivers. Texting and driving has been illegal in Vermont since 2010, but that was well before the trend of sharing selfies took hold, and prosecutors don’t know if charging selfie-loving drivers under that statute would stick.

The law bans “the reading or the manual composing or sending of electronic communications, including text messages, instant messages, or e-mails, using a portable electronic device” while driving.

Bram Kranichfeld is a former prosecutor who now serves as the executive director of the Vermont Department of State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs. He doesn’t think the texting and driving law would necessarily apply to selfies.

“That doesn’t sound like we’d be able to bring a charge just based on someone taking a selfie because we’d have to prove that they actually sent it to somebody,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean taking selfies behind the wheel is legal. Kranichfeld and Chittenden County State's Attorney TJ Donovan both thought operator self-portraiture might fall under another statute.

“The criminal charge that comes to my mind is probably negligent operation,” Donovan said, adding that without a specific case in front of him, he was speaking generally. “Right off the top of my head, that’s what I would think about.”

But as for a solid legal precedent, neither Kranichfeld nor Donovan had ever heard of a Vermont case involving a driver taking selfies.

“I personally have not prosecuted or heard of a charge involving someone taking a selfie while driving,” Kranichfeld said. “But that doesn’t mean that they may not be out there.”

“I have not heard that yet, but anything’s possible,” Donovan said of such cases.

But a quick search of Twitter and Instagram make it clear that the practice exists, even if it hasn’t yet ended up in court.

Vine user Pete Doyle-Braman posted a video on Vine in which he appears to be driving down the interstate.

“En route to Vermont, driving, Vining, as I do,” he says in the video.

In the caption, Doyle-Braman didn’t include the hashtag #drivingselfie. He opted instead for perhaps a more fitting one: #danger.

Taylor was VPR's digital reporter from 2013 until 2017. After growing up in Vermont, he graduated with at BA in Journalism from Northeastern University in 2013.
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