The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department stopped responding to most non-injury traffic accidents a month ago to “concentrate on enforcement” aimed at reducing fatalities (i.e. giving out more speeding tickets). Public reaction has been pretty negative, with many concerned that insurance claims will be impacted by the lack of third-party perspective. With the onus on us to report our own fender benders to the DMV and insurance companies, there’s a potentially glaring problem in the first line of Metro’s primer: “Take a picture, if it is safe to do so, to visually document the damage.”
Sure, a lot of people have smartphones. But a 2013 Pew Research Center survey found that 9 percent of Americans don’t even own a basic cell phone—and the 35 percent who do may lack sophisticated photo and video capabilities or access to apps designed for cataloging an accident scene.
A little over half of the population is smartphone-equipped, the smallest demographic slice being age 65 and older (only 18 percent adoption compared to about 80 percent among consumers 18 to 34). UNLV Assistant Professor of Sociology Taka Yamashita says the disparity has to do with the “cohort” or time in which older generations grew up, as well as declining cognitive and physical functions that make it harder to use certain devices. But the stereotype that seniors universally shun new technology falls apart next to high adoption rates by those with bigger incomes and advanced degrees. Regardless of age, the poor and less educated are least likely to own smartphones, but Yamashita believes even savvy users with the shiniest devices may have trouble in the aftermath of a crash.
“If they don’t know how to systematically document the incident or how to construct a coherent story … it doesn’t matter if they have lots of pictures,” he says, asserting that from digital natives to baby boomers, Las Vegans would benefit from more education about what to do in the crucial moment—before they’re actually in it. Especially if calling up that handy Metro primer would require fleeing the scene to find a computer.