Car crash sites in Nova Scotia have become a setting for people trying to make a name for themselves on social media by posting photos and videos of wreckage recorded on cell phones as they drive by.
That distracted driving has caused people to rear end other cars, drive off the road or narrowly miss first responders, says Cpl. Dal Hutchinson, spokesperson for the Halifax RCMP.
He said people trying to get a look at a crash has always been a problem, but it’s a lot worse since cell phones have become so common. Now almost every time there’s a collision, someone driving by is trying to capture what happened on their phone, said Hutchinson.
“They’re driving by, they want to see what happened, they want to be the first to post it on social media and tell everybody about a collision in a certain location. But again, we see it far too often, they’re endangering themselves and others around them,” he said.
Hutchinson doesn’t know how many separate collisions are caused by drivers trying to take pictures of smashed-up vehicles.
But over the years he’s heard of numerous cars going off the road or being involved in fender benders because people were too busy looking at a crash rather than the road in front of them.
Several times, at collisions on highways 102 and 104 in Colchester and Cumberland counties, Hutchinson himself has been centimetres away from being struck by drivers trying to get a better look at a crash.
Sometimes police officers can hop in their cruiser and ticket or warn a driver who nearly hits a first responder, but that’s rare.
“Unfortunately, a lot of these situations, these collision scenes we’re at, there may only be two or three police officers present so we don’t have the luxury of going after someone and dealing with them,” said Hutchinson.
First responders aren’t the only ones who can be hurt as drivers try to capture images of a car wreck.
The images themselves can be hurtful.
“Sometimes next of kin may find out something on social media before they find out from a more appropriate means,” said Jean Spicer, corporate communications manager for EHS Operations.
“The taking of pictures and posting it to social media from people who are just doing it out of curiosity or doing it just to share, sometimes I don’t think people really put themselves into that person’s shoes or they don’t think of that person as perhaps a friend or family member,” she said.
The people taking the pictures and videos can also see more than they expect, sometimes catching crash victims in their greatest hour of need, said Spicer.
“We owe that person their privacy in that moment. We ask that people do slow down and that they do proceed based on the move-over law, very cautiously, but not to purposely look at a patient in their hour of need, to help protect their privacy.”
Police, firefighters, and paramedics are asking drivers to slow down, keep their distance and leave their cell phones alone as they approach an accident scene.
“Give us the room we need to work and to get our first responders in [and] to get those patients out, so we can get them to a hospital,” said Dave Meldrum a division chief with Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency.