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Why you don’t need to take my picture when I make a driving faux pas

Okay, I admit it: not my finest moment.

This morning, after getting the kids to school late (again!) and chasing down some forgotten homework (again!), my husband and I found ourselves in the wrong lane in stop-and-go traffic on the way to work. No one would let us in, so eventually we just squeezed over – earning an angry honk and some unkind hand gesturing from the driver in the car behind.

I lost it, and rolled down the window to, um, share my point of view and she held up her BlackBerry...and took my picture.

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I was being a jerk and the thought of that image floating around somewhere, one-sided and undefended, did stop me short. (How unfair, I sputtered to my husband: where's the digital proof of all the other mornings when I've gritted my teeth and smiled tolerantly at hostile horn-honkers?)

It made me think: Should we all start whipping out our smartphone cameras in defense of perceived slights or rudeness? Does the fear of getting your picture snapped in a weak moment really change behaviour? (In my case, it would appear so.) Or does this shutterbug-spy trend run the risk of making us a society of intolerant Big Brothers?

Last week, after several TTC drivers were caught texting by passengers with a cell phone camera - while steering the bus (infractions that cost them their jobs) the union accused the media of encouraging passengers to "phone stalk" drivers for bad behaviour – and not encouraging the same surveillance for passengers who abuse the driver.

In Britain, the Sussex police have introduced "Operation Crackdown," in which motorists could go online and report incidents of anti-social driving, including speeding, talking on your phone and tailgating. In three years, authorities received nearly 20,500 reports – and identified most of the drivers. Of them, 2700 received "letters of advice" about their driving, and 1,050 drivers were sanctioned, including 28 for driving under the influence. (No word on what that says about the content of the other 15,000 or so complaints.)

There's still talk of expanding the program in Britain despite concerns raised by privacy advocates such as Dylan Sharpe at Big Brother watch, who suggested "the scheme is wide open to abuse, ranging from people with minor grudges against neighbours to busybody drivers who think they know what constitutes bad driving."

There's even an iphone app now to make outing bad drivers easy. Called Fail Driver, it allows you to add license plates to a registry (as well as watch out for your own.)

Cell phones have proven useful in clarifying eyewitnesses accounts. But often a pictures doesn't tell the full story. And one of the problems with the web is an obvious imbalance – the accused gets identified, while the person making the accusation stays anonymous.

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As for me, I feel badly, and more than a little embarrassed, about my behaviour this morning.

And I don't need a picture to tell me that.

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About the Author

Erin Anderssen writes about mental health, social policy and family issues. More

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