The risks of small screen and social media glorification of speeding

A few years ago, a healthcare professor at Harvard Medical School in the US suggested that watching movies like The Fast and the Furious, compounded by social media exposure, caused people to drive faster and break speeding laws.

Dr Apunam Jena had analysed data from Montgomery County in Maryland and found that over a five-year period there was a clear spike after films in the franchise were released.

We found a large increase in the average speed of drivers who received speeding tickets on the weekends after Fast and Furious releases.

He said: “We found a large increase in the average speed of drivers who received speeding tickets on the weekends after Fast and Furious releases. Comparing the three weekends before each movie’s release with the three weekends after, we found that the speeds people were given tickets for increased almost 20%.”

The data was checked against previous years and the release of another blockbuster series that didn’t feature fast cars – the Hunger Games trilogy. Dr Jena’s conclusion was: “Our analysis suggests that watching Dom Toretto (played by Vin Diesel) and crew streak across movie screens can inspire moviegoers to do some dangerously fast and furious driving themselves.”

Glorifying speeding

This might seem spurious and certainly the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that connecting fatal crashes to street racing on screen is “difficult”. Universal Studios, creators of the movie franchise, has also said that any attempt to link accidents to its movie is unjustifiable and would “confuse cause and effect”.

However, in the year the first Fast and Furious movie came out, at least 135 people died in accidents from possible races in the US – almost twice as many as the year before. And police departments have been known to increase traffic patrols around cinemas after the films have been released.

It’s an issue that refuses to go away. An Australian study is the latest to wonder if there is link between being exposed to media that ‘glorifies’ speeding and doing it in real life. The research, led by Dr Kayla Stefanidis, a Research Fellow in the Road Safety Research Collaboration Unit at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia, focused on social media, rather than mass-media.

Social media amplification

As part of her research, Dr Stefanidis noted in a study in Washington USA that there was a significant proportion of individuals who expressed positive attitudes online towards dangerous behaviours such as impaired driving, speeding and distraction. Survey results also indicated that “many people believe they are regularly exposed to pro-speeding content online and this might increase their risk of speeding in the real world”.

Many people believe they are regularly exposed to pro-speeding content online and this might increase their risk of speeding in the real world

Similarly, results were identified in an Australian study that found a large body of content on social media chatrooms, blogs and webpages expressed negative attitudes towards speed enforcement in Australia, with many labelling it as ‘nanny state’.

Nor is it just speeding that is glorified. A previous study analysed 80,923 tweets related to road rage and expressed aggression toward the perceived lack of skill of other drivers on the road. Dr Stefanidis commented: “Interestingly, many of these tweets appeared to be posted while driving, suggesting that this trend of criticising other drivers on social media may be creating a dangerous distraction of its own.”

The author acknowledges that further investigations are needed. However, with research showing that online exposure is a ‘significant direct predictor’ to risky behaviours such as excessive alcohol use, disordered eating, self-harm, violence to others and dangerous pranks, is it too much of a stretch to think it could extend to speeding?

The dangers of promoting speeding

As the World Health Organization points out, every 1% increase in average speed results in a 4% increase in the risk of a fatal crash. Globally, speeding is generally acknowledged to be a factor in approximately a third of all motor vehicle fatalities.

A recent review in the UK also suggests that previous statistics may have been under-reported as numbers are based on initial reports from the scene of a collision, where there is a strong incentive for drivers not to mention that they were speeding. Crucially, they are not updated at any point, even if the subsequent investigation finds that other factors contributed to the accident.

The Times newspaper reported that a Metropolitan Police review found that speeding was cited as a factor in 17.5 per cent of fatal crashes in 2019 based on the initial investigation, but that this rose to almost half (49.2%) based on the final results. Similarly, the figure for 2020 was revised up from 19.1% to 46.8%. If a similar bias exists in other countries, we may conclude that the impact of speeding can be up to 70% under-reported.

It might be asking too much of employers to keep an eye out for the release dates of Fast and Furious films*, but taking measures to curb speeding all year round, as well as educating drivers on the dangers of speeding as well as social medial influence more generally, should be part of a holistic risk management strategy.

For more on the dangers of speeding, visit.

*The 10th instalment of The Fast and the Furious is expected to be released in the spring of 2023.

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