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Risky selfies: Public safety campaigns may be needed to discourage dangerous behaviour at tourist hot spots

Until now, risking life and limb to take a great selfie hasn’t made the cut for public safety campaigns—like those we see for drinking and driving or distracted walking. That could soon change.

Turkish study found 137 deaths around the world related to risky selfie-taking between 2013 and 2017

One search and rescue team leader is blaming social media for the 30 per cent increase in calls they receive. (Diana Indiana/Shutterstock)

Officials in some of the world's most scenic spots say more and more selfie-seekers are putting their safety at risk to get the perfect photo — and boost likes on their social media channels.

"We've seen a 30 per cent increase in the amount of calls that we've been getting in the last three years," said Mike Danks, team leader for North Shore Rescue, a mountain search and rescue team based in Vancouver.

"We believe social media has influenced that."

North Vancouver rescue crews have saved more than a dozen injured people who attempted dangerous cliff jumps at Lynn Canyon Park this year alone.

Thankfully, nobody died in any of those jumps. But officials fear it's a matter of time.

"We find that a lot of people are coming to areas like this and they glorify it," said Richard Walton, mayor of North Vancouver District.

"They don't accurately reflect the extent of the risks. And what it often does is you find a lot of other, mostly young, folks who come in and wish to share that same experience."

A dangerous global trend

The problem is playing out in other parts of Canada and around the world.

In Montreal this summer, coyotes attacked people trying to cozy up for a photo.

"They are wild animals and we have to treat them as wild animals," Émilie Thuillier, borough mayor for Ahuntsic-Cartierville in Montreal, told CBC News last month.

"But some people feed them — they give water, they take selfies."

People are often warned to use common sense after selfie-motivated injuries have already occurred, but those warnings apparently aren't enough to curb the dangerous behaviour.

Lewis Smith is the manager of national projects at the Canada Safety Council. He says public awareness campaigns around risky selfie-taking behaviour are 'certainly something that's on our radar.' (Submitted by Lewis Smith)

A Turkish study looking at selfie-related injuries around the world between 2013 and 2017 found 137 deaths related to risky selfie-taking during that period.

Additionally, the study published in the Turkish Journal of Trauma and Emergency Surgery found that selfie-related incidents are rising, that the incidents most typically involve students and that August is the month when the most incidents occur.

In New York State's Catskill Mountains, the popularity of the Kaaterskill Falls has led to people taking risky photos — with four dying in the last four years, according to the New York Times. As a result, new regulations prohibit visitors from going closer than about two metres from cliff ledges.

Public campaigns 'on our radar': Safety Council

Until now, risking life and limb to take a great selfie hasn't made the cut for public safety campaigns — like those that are now commonplace for issues like drinking and driving or distracted walking. That could soon change.

"It's certainly something that's on our radar. It has been on our radar for a while," said Lewis Smith, manager of national projects at the Canada Safety Council.

"We could be talking about a more significant blitz on media, as far as awareness goes. We could certainly be talking about more data tracking, so we have a better scope of how serious this problem is."

Signs, tour guides and public safety campaigns are all possible options to help curb dangerous selfie-taking behaviour. (Shutterstock)

Smith says we need to learn more about the hot spots for dangerous selfie-taking, and perhaps take the lead from other popular tourist destinations like the Grand Canyon.

"They have signs all over the place and they have tour guides who are frequently mentioning, 'Be careful if you're taking selfies; don't go too far or too close to the edge.' It keeps the idea fresh in people's minds," said Smith.

You won't get many likes if you're not able to post a photo.- Lewis Smith, Canada Safety Council

And while there will always be people who ignore the rules, Smith says the more warnings that governments and attractions issue, the greater the chance to save lives.

"They might stop for a second and think … 'Well the guide just told me that it has happened in the past that people have gotten injured from this, so I should be on guard for that,'" said Smith.

Ultimately, Smith says people should worry first about what they're doing in the moment, rather than showing other people on social media what they're doing.

"If you're gonna be taking a selfie, always be aware of your surroundings because losing that for even one second can lead to something much more tragic than you're hoping for," said Smith.

"And you won't get many likes if you're not able to post a photo."

About the Author

Jason Osler is the national 'trends' columnist for CBC Radio.

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