Tech, Now + Beyond

Goverments are trying to keep you alive with “no selfie zones”

With headline after headline reporting the latest selfie fatality, it's time for some state-sponsored intervention.

Selfies can be dangerous.

Hear us out. You won’t hear The Tempest hating on selfies — they’re fun, fulfilling, easy to snap, and eliminate the risk of putting your phone in the hands of a stranger. But with the multitude of selfies that flood social media, there’s an unspoken competition to take the most impressive shot. This, as your Instagram feed can attest to, is leading some daredevils around the globe to try and take selfies in more and more extreme locations. And once you’re in those locations –  sometimes all it takes to kill you is a few seconds lapse in concentration.

That’s why a few governments around the world have started creating no selfie zones. (Whether they’ll be effective is another question.)

It sounds melodramatic to say that selfies can lead to death, but headlines are popping up from around the world of people who die in photo-related deaths. Wikipedia’s list of all the people killed by selfies currently has 35 lethal incidents from 2016. Some of these involve multiple deaths, and many occurred when others try to rescue someone who has is in danger after a selfie-related incident.

Some of the incidents involve situations that are difficult to prevent using law enforcement officers. These involve people taking selfies with guns, or in front of trains, or while on the job. However many of the other incidents occurred in famous spots, or in similar scenarios: near the edge of a cliff or other high place, or near running water.

In these cases, the deaths may be slightly more preventable. That’s why some governments around the world are taking measures to prevent more selfie-related incidents. India suffers one of the highest rates of selfie-related deaths — as an example, in January 2014, three students on their way to the Taj Mahal stopped to take a photo with a speeding train approaching, and were hit. An 18-year-old drowned in the sea when she fell while taking a photo of herself at Bandstand Fort in Mumbai.

So the city of Mumbai. created no selfie zones in 16 areas of the city close to the coast. Besides a city-wide awareness campaign, police can fine people about $18 for being in these areas in hopes of deterring fatalities.

Although Russia has not moved to officially ban selfies, the government did issue a series of warnings about how to take the safest selfies in 2015, after 10 people were killed and 100 injured while snapping photos.

In India’s Gujarat forests, the government has recently began posting signs to remind visitors that taking photos with lions and other such beasts violates the Wildlife Protection Act. The New York state legislature also passed a bill to limit the amount of contact between large cats and members of the public, making the act of taking a selfie with the wild animals much more difficult. However, even one of the assemblywomen who supports the bill admits that it will be difficult to enforce it, since it will be hard to tell if the photos that appear in New York with wild animals were taken there or not.

On the other hand, the Australian government is actually promoting them in the interest of raising tourism. The government hopes to attract Japanese tourists in particular to use an app and specially mounted cameras to take impressive panoramic-like selfies, which they can then share easily on various social media sites.

There’s no evidence as to whether these officially sanctioned selfies have prevented selfie-related injuries or deaths. But maybe the already-impressive selfies will stop tourists from wandering over to a slightly more dangerous area to take their own photos.

  • Grace Ballenger

    Grace Ballenger is currently pursuing a BA at Wellesley College where she studies English and Spanish. One of her (too many) goals this summer is to make the list of musicals she wants to listen to shorter.