When thinking of distracted driving, one’s mind generally jumps to texting, talking on the phone, taking pictures, eating, or even applying make-up. However a new type of distraction has manifested itself in our everyday lives – catching Pokemon.
Pokemon Go, released on July 6, 2016, has already reached an estimated 75 million downloads worldwide as of last month, but even those numbers feel conservative based on how many people seem to be playing. Understanding the level of distraction that this game poses, however, requires a basic understanding of how the game works.
Pokemon Go is free and requires fairly constant attention to a smartphone in order to catch new Pokemon in the world around you. It uses Ingress, Niantic Lab’s earlier real world exploration game to determine real world points of interest, such as historical sites, monuments, or art installations, and uses these locations as either Pokestops, where you can collect supplies, or Gyms, where you can battle other users. Its popularity has reached people of all ages and backgrounds, and according to a survey by Forbes, the average player is surprisingly a 25 year old, white female who makes over $50,000 a year.
However, as of July 31st, there have already been 74 incidents related to Pokemon Go. Many of these involve crimes, like robbery, while people are playing, but at least 10 if these involve injuries from distraction, such as driving a car into a ditch, walking out into the middle of traffic, and even swiping a parked police car.
Aside from the fact that distraction is dangerous both behind the wheel and while simply walking down the street, since these notable, real-world locations attract players to places that already have a high volume car and foot traffic, the potential for a collision or accident becomes much higher. Many news organizations are also trying to capitalize on the popularity of the game by compiling lists of the best places for players to find Pokestops like this article in the Orange County Register. Furthermore, lures can also be cast on these Pokestop locations, which draw in more Pokemon and therefore also more users, adding yet another degree of congestion.
And as research suggests, young people don’t need any help finding new distractions behind the wheel. According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, distracted driving already accounts for eight deaths and more than 1,000 injuries every day and drivers in their 20s are only 23% of drivers in all fatal crashes, but account for 38% of distracted drivers who were using cell phones in fatal crashes. According to the same Forbes survey mentioned above, half (46%) of players in Pokemon Go are ages 18-29, which is the prime age for distraction.
All of this said, there are many positive benefits associated with Pokemon Go. First, it gets people outside, visiting locations in their hometown and walking the required distances to hatch eggs. Certain cities, such as Savannah have even seen a sharp increase in tourism to local historical because of people visiting Pokestops. Second, as is the case with almost anything that is universally popular, it brings people together and fosters a sense of community. Not only can players talk and share experiences about the game, but it is divided into three different colored teams that players can join (red, blue, and yellow), literally bringing strangers together. Third, the idea of getting outside and interacting with strangers can also have a positive impact on mental health. Anxiety, depression, and other mental issues seem to melt away with a little motivation for healthy behavior from the game.
All of these benefits can come with a price though, especially when not paying attention to your surroundings. As stated earlier, the game has been out for less than a month, and reports of adverse situations and injuries related to the game are already pouring in. If you are injured by a distracted driver using Pokemon Go, consider speaking with a personal injury attorney who can ensure that you get compensated fairly for any damages. Otherwise, continue to enjoy the game, but do so at your own risk and stay aware of your surroundings like any good Pokemon trainer should.