Almost three-quarters (71%) of drivers take photos or videos when they see an emergency vehicle on the side of the road responding to a fire or a crash, or simply making a routine traffic stop, according to a survey released by the National Safety Council (NSC) and the Emergency Responder Safety Institute.

Released to coincide with Distracted Driving Awareness Month, the survey also reveals that 60% of drivers post photos/ videos to social media, and 66% send an email about the situation – all while behind the wheel. During normal driving conditions 24% of drivers surveyed said they take photos or video while driving, 29% admitted to using social media and 24% said they send email.

More than one in 10 of those surveyed (16%) said they either have struck or nearly struck a first responder or emergency vehicle stopped on or near the road.

“The cruel irony is, we are putting the people who are trying to improve safety in very unsafe situations,” said Nick Smith, interim President and CEO of NSC. “Our emergency responders deserve the highest levels of protection as they grapple with situations that are not only tactically difficult but also emotionally taxing. Save your communications for off the road; disconnect and just drive.”

Thousands die each year in distracted driving crashes, though NSC investigations show these crashes are significantly underreported and undercounted. Emergency responders are particularly vulnerable because they exit their vehicles and tend to situations on active roadways.

“The Emergency Responder Safety Institute was born 21 years ago following the tragedy of two highway incidents that took the lives of first responders who were struck while helping others,” said Greg Yost, President of the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Firemen’s Association, parent organization of the Emergency Responder Safety Institute. “Because of distracted driving, we’ve been focusing our efforts on educating drivers who are often not paying careful enough attention when passing emergency scenes. In 2019, already 16 responders have lost their lives and many others have been injured in these types of crashes.”