Pokémon Go & Driving

An Accident Waiting to Happen

By Alex Perdikis

Pokémon Go, an augmented reality game played on your smartphone, is the new craze. And it’s making drivers do crazy things. Like what? The game is such a blast that people are getting behind the wheel and cruising around to search for these digital creatures. In other words, people are simultaneously driving and gaming on their smartphones! The unfortunate result: accidents and injuries. Given the injuries and fatalities caused by texting and driving, no one could have possibly foreseen that Pokémon Go could incite such havoc, right? If you hadn’t guessed, that was sarcasm. Auto accidents resulting from hot pursuits of Pokémon are a foregone conclusion.

What Is Pokémon Go and How Is It Played?

Pokémon means “pocket monsters.” In Pokémon, monsters roam valleys and dales. As a player, your job is to locate, catch and train them, ultimately putting them into battle against other players’ Pokémon. The original Pokémon games of the 1990s were played on the Nintendo Game Boy, a handheld game console, and you probably played while you sat on the couch. Now the latest offspring, Pokéman Go, is played in real time in the real world—sometimes while you sit in the driver’s seat.

Pokémon Go is a free, location-based augmented reality game. That means the game has a live view of the physical, real-world environment whose elements are supplemented by computer-generated sensory input, such as GPS data. The digital creatures that players seek appear on their smartphone screens as a digital overlay of the real world surrounding the player. Players also use their phones to locate digital items to use within the game. These can be found at PokéStops, which are typically located at real landmarks. Believe it or not, the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., is home to three PokéStops, so gamers are playing at the museum as well as at Arlington National Cemetery. If you’re raising your eyebrows in dismay, you are not alone—many critics find gaming in these areas inappropriate.

Everywhere you look, people are walking or driving around and then getting out of their cars to search for, capture and train their little monsters. Why is this problematic? One reason is that gaming drivers and pedestrians alike are not very focused on what else is going on in their environments besides the location of their Pokémon. This lack of awareness of real-world occurrences that lie in a player’s path has produced dangerous consequences. Consider the gamers who walked off a cliff while looking at their Pokémon-filled screens—they had to be rescued. True story.

Injuries and Accidents Involving Pokémon Go

Needless to say, Pokémon Go has not been all fun and games. Although it has been touted for prompting people to get off their couches and get some exercise, Pokéman Go is rapidly showing its dark side. Since the game’s recent emergence, some Pokémon Go devotees have been involved in serious accidents, like the one above, producing cautionary tales. Many of these accidents have involved drivers or pedestrians playing the game.

Here are some examples of how Pokémon Go is contributing to real-world accidents involving cars:

  • In Auburn, New York, a man was driving while playing Pokémon Go. The game distracted him. He drove into a tree and survived, but he sustained injuries.
  • In Pennsylvania, a 15-year-old girl was hit by a car when she walked onto a highway while playing Pokémon Go on her phone instead of watching for traffic. She also sustained injuries, but, thankfully, she too survived.
  • In Minnesota, a 14-year-old boy bicycled out in front of a car, and has been hospitalized. Witnesses say he was playing Pokémon Go instead of watching for cars.
  • Two Canadian police officers suffered injuries when two individuals backed into their police car. According to reports, the two got out of the car and apologized, admitting they had been playing Pokémon Go.

Safety Tips for Drivers and Gamers

Right now, if you Googled tips for Pokémon Go, you’d likely come up with more than 8 million hits. That’s right: In just the couple of weeks since Pokémon Go emerged as the game du jour, there have been more than 8 million posts about tips and tricks to succeed at the game. Here are seven safety tips for driver, passenger and pedestrian gamers.

  1. Don’t Pokémon and drive. If you’re playing Pokémon in the car, make sure you’re the passenger.
  2. Drive with extreme caution when escorting a Pokémon Go player.
  3. If you are a passenger gamer, don’t shout or otherwise distract the driver.
  4. Diligently watch for pedestrians.
  5. If you’re playing Pokémon Go while walking, remain alert and aware of your surroundings.
  6. Exercise respect for others and their property while gaming.
  7. Heed local authorities’ warnings about gaming.