Out of the three episodes in the fifth season of Black Mirror, ‘Smithereens’ may stick out due to its vague but tragic ending. Aside from its poignant take on the increasing ubiquity of social media and social networking sites, this episode also glances at the consequences of distracted driving and drunk driving.
But how did ‘Smithereens’ handle these types of dangerous driving, and how do they compare with each other in the real world?
The episode mainly revolves around Chris Gillhaney (Andrew Scott) who drives for an Uber-like app called Hitcher. He regularly waits for passengers near the London headquarters of the fictional social media company, ‘Smithereens’, until he picks up a Smithereens intern named Jaden (Damson Idris). Chris then took Jaden as hostage in his car, demanding to speak with the CEO and founder of Smithereens, Billy Bauer (Topher Grace), and the stand-off quickly became viral online.
Upon learning of the incident, Billy decided to talk to Chris, where it was revealed that the latter’s actions were fueled by the untimely death of his fiancee in a road accident. On the night of the accident, Chris was driving his fiancee home when a Smithereens notification made him glance at his phone. This was all it took for his car to collide with another vehicle, which ultimately killed his fiancee. Although Chris blamed himself for the accident, the other driver was held accountable because he was reportedly under the influence of alcohol.
Drunk driving vs distracted driving
As he spoke to Billy Bauer, Chris Gillhaney said that his phone was the first thing he saw in the morning and the last thing he saw at night. Indeed, many of us are compelled to be on our phones for most of the time, keeping us from seeing our surroundings. But is distracted driving just as dangerous or even more dangerous than drunk driving?
Let us take a look at their effects on drivers and statistics for the casualties of each.
The legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit is 0.08%, but drinking any amount of alcohol before driving can have negative effects on your capabilities behind the wheel. Even at 0.02% BAC, you may experience lessened visual functions and worsened ability to multitask. Your overall motor and audiovisual skills will decline further in higher BAC levels, which may result in a driver’s inability to recognize turn signals, maintain lane position, and a delay in braking response.
On the other hand, distracted driving impedes three components that are essential to driving, namely manual (taking your hand or hands off the wheel), visual (taking your eyes off the road), and cognitive (taking your mind off of driving). You may be distracted by your phone or other activities, like eating and drinking. However, being on your phone while driving hinders all these components at once. The driver’s emotional response to what they see on the phone may cause additional distraction, as well.
In 2016, 10,497 people died and around 290,000 were injured in road accidents involving drunk drivers, making up 28% of all traffic-related deaths in the US. Drunk driving accidents are also found to most commonly occur between midnight and 3am.
In 2016, 3,450 people died in the US in crashes involving a distracted driver, while 391,000 were injured. Drivers aged under 20 are also found most likely to be involved in fatal crashes caused by distracted driving. In 2017, 9% of all teen deaths in motor vehicle crashes involved distracted driving.
Since damage to property without any personal injury can be easily settled, some accidents go unreported. If a collision results to a smashed windshield, for example, the other party may just pay for the auto glass replacement.
Taking all these into consideration, was Chris Gillhaney right to blame himself instead of the other, drunk driver? It is hard to tell, but some reports claim that distracted driving might be more deadly than data shows. Chris and the other driver may be equally responsible for the accident, as well. After all, both drunk and distracted driving can have fatal consequences.