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Rise of the digital rubberneckers who take photos of serious accidents in Suffolk

PUBLISHED: 09:52 12 May 2016 | UPDATED: 09:52 12 May 2016

Wickham Market could benefit from improved mobile reception

Wickham Market could benefit from improved mobile reception

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More and more people are being caught taking drive-by photographs at serious accident scenes.

The scene of the crash in Risbygate Street, Bury St Edmunds where a girls took selfiesThe scene of the crash in Risbygate Street, Bury St Edmunds where a girls took selfies

Currently at least five drivers are awaiting summonses to drop through their letterboxes after taking pictures of a crash on the A14 which nearly claimed a lorry driver’s life.

Their reaction to the accident at Bury St Edmunds was only the latest example of ‘digital rubbernecking’.

Despite risking collisions and endangering the safety of others they chose to take pictures in the full view of police officers trying to help the badly injured man.

Already this year there has been one person prosecuted for photographing the scene of a crash on the A14.

Inspector David Giles.Inspector David Giles.

In another incident where a man died after being taken ill and crashing his car in Bury St Edmunds two smiling teenage girls took selfies at the scene.

In today’s world the power of technology has brought an immediacy to everything we do.

No longer is thinking about the morality of what we are doing necessary when it all happens in the moment.

Without pausing for thought we grab our phones, iPads and cameras regardless of the situation.

Inspector David Giles, who heads up the Suffolk and Norfolk Serious Collision Investigation Team, was one of the officers at the scene of the A14 accident which involved the lorry driver.

Police were called around 3.05pm to a seven-vehicle collision which left the road closed for seven hours. It involved three cars, three HGVs and a van. Some of the vehicles had tried to take avoiding action prior to crashing.

One of the lorry drivers was seriously injured and taken to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge in a critical condition.

Other motorists chose to take photos while driving by.

Insp Giles could hardly believe what he witnessed with a combination of annoyance and incredulity.

He said: “I have never experienced this stood at the side of roads.

“Eastbound was closed and westbound was busy. Several people drove past and were clearly filming from mobiles or devices. We will in good time send them notices of intended prosecution.”

Asked what he felt about the modern-day phenomenon of filming or taking pictures of incidents which could even have tragic consequences Insp Giles added: “Macabre. Why are you filming?

“You don’t know if it was a fatal accident so people are potentially filming the scene of someone’s death.

“There’s also the likelihood of other collisions being caused. There were numerous near misses. You could hear vehicles sounding their horns and occasional skids.

“That was just adding to the mayhem.

“The really disappointing thing to me was the number of commercial drivers involved who are up and down the road all the time and get frustrated with delays, but are ultimately contributing to that.

“It’s one thing to be having a glance, but people had got their eyes completely off the road and were operating a device. That’s just adding to the level of danger. I speak for all police officers when I say it is massively upsetting and annoying that people do it.”

It is likely those who took the photos are usually rational, thoughtful people who would take a different view if they were to have been among those involved in the crash in the first place.

However, our reliance on technology sets aside the normal boundaries and thought processes.

West Bergholt psychologist Tom Stewart, a specialist in people and technology, said: “What seems to happen, when people are behind a phone or on social media, there seems to be a disconnect.

“There are quite a lot of examples of people who seem to completely forget the consequences of what they are doing.

“It’s an automatic reaction that you will look at something and take a picture.

“Part of the problem is people don’t think through what it means in a different context and if they do it’s probably too late.

“We need to try to develop better manners with mobile technology.

“It does seem to encourage this mindless ‘take a picture first, think later’ (approach) to it.

“I think it is to do with feeling anonymous and personal

“Your phone is a very personal thing. You feel like you are talking to yourself and the fact is it is connected to the world. People don’t see what that means.

“I think there does seem to be a different mindset when you are dealing with social media.”

Photographers from the EADT and Ipswich Star will often attend the scene of serious crashes.

However, this is done in the most responsible manner possible, with respect for the fact that somebody may be seriously hurt or worse.

Our photographers will usually be guided by police at the scene, who advise when it is appropriate to take a picture.

When it comes to publishing photos of accidents we will take great car to ensure they show only the vehicles involved and not the people.

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