Over the past several months, Pokemon GO has become the mobile game to have, with millions of people worldwide “finding” the little critters hiding around their own neighborhoods.
New research published by the scientific journal JAMA Internal Medicine, however, raises concern about the safety of this game—particularly when players neglect to put it away when they get behind the wheel.
Researchers Determine Over 100,000 Incidents Caused by Pokemon Distraction
“Pokemon GO is a new distraction for drivers and pedestrians,” the researchers state, “and safety messages are scarce.”
Indeed, since the game came out in July 2016, research suggests that more than 110,000 incidents in a 10-day period were caused by drivers and pedestrians who were distracted by the game. One man drove his car into a tree while playing, and researchers tracked down at least 14 other crashes that were likely caused by the game over that limited 10-day period.
Researchers found this information by mining data from social media and news media reports, scanning a total of 350,000 Twitter posts that involved the words “Pokemon” and “driving a car,” and over 320 news stories covering crashes that were said to have been caused by the game.
Pokemon GO Results in Player Injuries
Pokemon GO is what is called an “augmented reality,” game, in which the characters in the game are superimposed on the reality around the person. The game taps into the phone’s camera to display the person’s surroundings, and then directs them as to where to “find” hidden Pokemon creatures nearby.
Players are represented in the game by an avatar, and are rewarded with points for collecting Pokemon creatures in real-world locations around them, including parks, neighborhoods, street corners, and other public places, though some citizens have complained that the creatures have also been located on private property. According to CBS News, for example, two Ohio players were arrested after allegedly breaking into a zoo after hours to hunt for Pokemon.
The good thing about the game is that it gets players outside and exercising. The bad news is that players tend to be so absorbed in the screen that they fail to watch where they’re going. Pedestrians have hurt themselves while playing because they failed to look up. Two players distracted by the game in California, for example, fell off an ocean bluff and had to be rescued.
Even worse, however, is when players get behind the wheel.
Researchers Suggest Game Makers Create Usage-Blocking Technology
In July 2016, shortly after the game was released, one driver crashed his car into a Baltimore police car because he was distracted with the game. In August, a man playing the game while driving in Japan hit two pedestrians, killing a 72-year old woman. A short time after that, another woman was hit by a car while riding her bicycle, and died two weeks later. The driver told police that he was trying to change his phone battery at the time because he had run it down playing Pokemon GO.
Researchers of this recent study believe that there have been a number of other near misses. One user, for example, tweeted, “My aunt is driving and playing Pokemon go please help my dear soul.”
Lead study author John Ayers stated that the large number of incidents of distracted driving “calls for immediate public action,” and added that even passengers can be dangerous, as they sometimes play the game in the car and order drivers to go where the creatures are. Researchers saw many cases of gaming passengers telling drivers when to stop, go, speed up, and more, interfering with driver safety.
Police officers have also reported robbers targeting distracted players.
Ayers suggested that the makers of the game, Niantic, should create technology that would block use of the game when sensing motion above a certain speed. So far no such technology has been implemented.