Noble McIntyre on July 18, 2016
Danger, Pokémon ahead! To be fair, a Pokemon, itself, isn’t dangerous (or so I’m told), but the new game Pokémon GO, released by Niantic in July, is causing a stir — in part because it has already started to cause Pokémon GO accidents in cars. That’s right… what started as a fun mobile phone app with some nostalgia value to the Pokémon generation has become a dangerous, high-stakes endeavor. The app has been out only a short time, and we’ve already seen news of a car crashing into a tree because the driver was distracted by playing Pokémon GO.
Pokémon GO is an augmented reality app that has captivated users across the country who play the game, based on Pokémon characters, on their mobile phones. A player will use the map and camera features on a smartphone to “search” for characters that are located in certain public spaces. Once the user finds a character, the player would then try to “catch” it. There’s a little more to it than that, but the essence is that you use the screen on your phone, which makes it appear that the character is in a “real-life” place. That means that users are walking, biking, and now driving while looking down at their phones in order to find the Pokémon, rather than paying attention to where they’re going. And, make no mistake — we’re not just talking about kids and teens, here. Adults are playing, too; in its first six days after release, the app was downloaded around 7.5 million times.
We’ve known for a long time that distracted driving causes the majority of car accidents. And, we’ve also been warning for years about the dangers of texting while driving. But, driving while playing Pokémon GO? Accidents from playing and driving are a whole new hazard. You should never be looking at your phone for any reason while driving. Somehow, though, this game is so addictive that people are losing their common sense in order to catch these critters.
By now, you might have heard stories about Pokémon GO mishaps like pedestrians tripping over sidewalks or bicyclists having minor collisions. While this can definitely cause injury, driving while playing Pokémon GO needs to be nipped in the bud because the potential for disaster is huge.
We’re not telling you to avoid playing Pokémon GO. Gotta’ catch ’em all! But, be careful out there. Especially in highly-populated areas (which is where the Pokémon characters are most likely to be found), you’re likely to encounter people with their heads down, eyes focused on their screens, which means that they are less aware of their surroundings. If you’re playing the game, be sure to look up, and don’t rely on the augmented reality of your phone’s camera to direct where you walk or move. And, if you’re driving, don’t play! There is no game that is worth the potential for a terrible, life-altering (or life-ending) result. If you feel that the game is such a draw that you can’t resist the urge to look, keep your phone out of reach while driving so that you won’t be tempted to sneak a quick peek (or Pikachu, as the case may be).
If you’re the parent of teen drivers, make sure to talk to them about playing Pokémon GO while driving, in addition to texting while driving, and know that they understand the risks before they hit the road. This issue is likely to get worse before it gets better, so stay safe and use your best judgment for safe driving.