It pops up in the news from time to time: the death-by-selfie. Earlier this week, for example, a teenager in India was struck and killed while trying to take a picture of himself in front of an oncoming train. Now the economics site Priceonomics has attempted to gather the existing statistics about the people who’ve lost their lives while taking selfies, combing through three years of news reports indicating a death was “precipitated by a selfie,” or that a person had died while attempting to take a photo of themselves.
What they found was sobering: Since 2014, 49 people had been reported dead as a result of some sort of accident involving a selfie. (And this is likely an underestimate, as not every selfie-related death was probably reported in the media.) More than a quarter of selfie-related deaths, perhaps unsurprisingly, are concentrated among 21-year-olds, and 75 percent are male.
The most dangerous places to take a self-portrait seem to be high places or in water: 16 people died from falling off a cliff or a tall building, while 14 drowned. Posing next to an oncoming train is responsible for eight deaths, coming in at third place. The other reasons are violent: gunshot (four), grenade (two), plane crash (two), car crash (two), and animal (one).
In terms of where in the world these selfie-related deaths occur, the data is skewed heavily toward India, where 19 of the reported selfie-related deaths — or 40 percent of the total sample — occurred. And while it would be easy to say that India’s higher population has something to do with the bloated number, that doesn’t appear to entirely explain it. India’s higher-than-average drowning rate has a huge role to play, and one that’s garnered government attention, to the point where the country has declared 16 no-selfie zones. And India’s not the first country to try to address this issue: Russia has created a campaign illustrating bad selfie ideas to discourage risky self-portraits from cliffs, mountaintops, or near wild animals, among other dangerous options.
The selfie, however, is not to blame in and of itself, as Priceonomics notes:
Of the 49 cases we examined, not a single death was caused by the selfie itself. To our knowledge, nobody has ever been fatally impaled by a selfie stick; rather, the selfie seems to serve as an inopportune catalyst — a distractor in situations where the picture-taker should should be focused on safety.
“A lot of these so-called selfie deaths can be blamed more on carelessness than photography,” Morgan O’Rourke, a risk management professional with 15 years of experience, tells us. “You have to be careful about taking shortcuts when trying to determine what is and isn’t threatening.”
It’s true that car or airplane accidents are much more likely to kill you than are selfie-related accidents; also, it’s not true that selfies are “more deadly” than shark attacks, according to a Daily Beast analysis last fall. As annoying as selfies can apparently be to some, you don’t need to quit taking them. Just, you know, be careful when taking one at the edge of a cliff.