By Kristine Phillips / The Washington Post
A teenager from Utah decided to cover her eyes and drive a pickup truck — the latest, police say, in yet another online craze that seems to inspire reckless behavior.
The 17-year-old girl, whom police did not name, crashed into another car. “Predictable result,” the Layton Police Department, located just north of Salt Lake City, wrote in a tweet.
Police say the stunt was inspired by the movie “Bird Box,” the apocalyptic Sandra Bullock thriller about a mysterious force that drives anyone who looks at it into suicidal and homicidal rage. In the movie, the unknown killer has decimated much of the population, and Bullock, while blindfolded, must navigate a treacherous river to take herself and her two children, whom she named Boy and Girl, to a sanctuary for survivors.
The film has become a hit, with more than 45 million Netflix subscribers watching it within the first week of its release last month. It has also become a meme magnet. And perhaps equally inevitable in this age of viral video stunts, it has inspired what the Internet now calls the “Bird Box challenge,” in which people record themselves doing various tasks while blindfolded.
But some have resorted to reckless stunts reminiscent of last year’s “Tide pod challenge.”
Layton police Lt. Travis Lyman said the 17-year-old driver pulled her beanie cap over her eyes as part of the challenge Monday, and the gray pickup she was driving crashed into a white SUV. Lyman said the girl was with a 16-year-old male passenger who was not blindfolded. No one was injured.
Also this week, YouTube celebrity Jake Paul joined the craze by driving in and walking across a busy Los Angeles street while blindfolded as part of a 24-hour “Bird Box challenge.” The video has since been removed online for violating YouTube’s policy that prohibits promoting dangerous activities, according to the Verge.
“Obviously, don’t drive blindfolded or purposely impair yourself like that. But our bigger message is with any of these challenges that seem to go viral, we encourage young people especially to really give some thought as to how you’re going about doing these challengers,” Lyman said. “Just do it in a different way. Don’t do it in a way that’s going to jeopardize people.”
The stunts have prompted a similar warning from Netflix: “Can’t believe I have to say this, but: PLEASE DO NOT HURT YOURSELVES WITH THIS BIRD BOX CHALLENGE. We don’t know how this started, and we appreciate the love, but Boy and Girl have just one wish for 2019 and it is that you not end up in a hospital due to memes.”
Police departments across the country have joined the chorus. Here’s one from Portland police in Maine: “Don’t do it. Don’t think about doing it. Watch the movie, be happy that’s not your reality, but please don’t blindfold yourself to relate. Especially not while driving. Most of us have a hard enough time driving safely with unobstructed vision.”
And from Lawrence police in Kansas: “We are happy to arrange a judge sightseeing tour for any Lawrence jackwagons participating in the Bird Box Challenge.”
The driving stunts were likely inspired by a part of the movie in which survivors had to drive to a grocery store to find food. They covered their vehicle’s windows and Tom, Bullock’s character’s love interest played by Trevante Rhodes, made the short and bumpy drive by simply looking at the car’s GPS.
Others resorted to nondriving stunts and didn’t prompt dire warnings.
Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner joined the challenge by trying to hit a baseball while blindfolded.
Alan Anaya, a high school kicker from Mexico, kicked a ball while blindfolded. But in his version of the challenge, a friend — also blindfolded ― was bent over on the ground, holding the ball up with the tip of his nose. Anaya takes three steps forward and kicks the ball, missing his friend’s face by a few inches.
In another version of a 24-hour Bird Box challenge, YouTube star Morgan Adams and a friend spent a clumsy day blindfolded. Her video has been viewed nearly 3 million times and remains online. But unlike Paul, Adams did not drive in a busy street blindfolded.
It’s unclear if YouTube has removed similar videos, and if so, how many. YouTube has not responded to a request for comment, but in a statement to business publication Fast Company, a YouTube spokesman said the video-streaming website is “working to quickly remove flagged videos” that encourage dangerous activities.
YouTube found itself in a similar situation last year, when teens, in the name of online glory, filmed themselves biting into brightly colored liquid laundry detergent pockets.
“You’re really taking a chance – and to what end?” Alfred Aleguas, managing director of the Florida Poison Information Center in Tampa, said at that time. “It’s pretty foolish behavior.”