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Distracted Drivers

Since the launch of Pokemon Go last summer there’s been reports and social media posts of accidents being caused by the mobile game.

A new study from Purdue University, though, uses detailed local traffic accident reports. The study suggests that Pokémon Go caused a marked increase in vehicular damage, injuries, and even deaths due to people playing the game while driving.

The study, disturbingly titled Death by Pokémon Go, is based on traffic accident data from Tippecanoe County, Indiana between March 1, 2015, and November 30, 2016. What it found is that traffic accidents increased across the entire county in that period. Therefore, the likelihood of an accident occurring within 100 meters of a Pokéstop was 26.5 percent higher.

Study Revealed True Extent

Additionally, they discovered that the traffic reports showed a disproportionate increase in “distracted driver” as the cause of accidents near Pokéstops. The authors estimate 134 extra accidents occurred near Pokéstops across the county in the 148-day period immediately after the game came out. This is compared to the baseline where those Pokéstops didn’t exist.

That adds up to nearly $500,000 in vehicle damage, 31 additional injuries, and two additional deaths across the county, based on extrapolation from the accident reports. When scaled nationally, the study’s authors speculate that 145,632 crashes across the country could be linked to people playing the game, as well as an increase of 29,370 injuries and 256 deaths. From an economic perspective, they estimate the cost associated with people playing while driving to be somewhere between $2 billion and $7.3 billion within the 148 days of its introduction.

Time to Stop Catching Them All

Developer Niantic hasn’t ignored Pokémon Go’s potential for causing distracted driving. Starting last August, an update to the game warned players in fast-moving vehicles that “You’re going too fast! Pokémon Go should not be played while driving,” and asked them to confirm they were a passenger before continuing. Then, starting last November, Niantic began making the game virtually unplayable in a fast-moving vehicle, even for passengers.

Of course, it’s not entirely fair to blame traffic accidents on a mobile game. It’s the drivers themselves who allowed themselves to be distracted. Just as they do when they choose to text or mess with a Spotify playlist while their eyes should be on the road. That Pikachu isn’t worth it in the end.


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