As with anything that can truly be defined as "popular," the sheer number of people playing Pokémon Go means there are going to be some mishaps, and so far the wildly popular augmented reality game hasn't disappointed. Since its release on July 7, Pokémon Go has led to armed robberies, a few stabbings, a deadly shooting, accidental illegal immigration, people walking off of cliffs, and the discovery of at least three dead bodies. Most of these accidents could've likely been avoided if the players had just, you know, looked up long enough to avoid the guy trying to stab them in the face with a knife, but in fairness there were squirtles that needed catching.
The less-than-tenuous link between playing Pokémon Go and a decrease in one's health recently prompted the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to commission a study examining Pokémon Go use while driving. Released on Friday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the study used data mining to determine instances where Pokémon Go was being used in an automobile and in how many instances this led to a crash.
To obtain this data, the researchers carrying out the study used stories found on Google News between July 10 and July 20 that contained the keywords 'Pokémon'and 'Driving,' in addition to a sample of nearly 350,000 tweets which combined 'Pokémon' with either 'driving,' 'drive,' 'drives,' or 'car.'
A random sample of 4000 tweets culled from these 350,000 were then analyzed by the researchers to determine whether it was a driver, passenger, or pedestrian playing Pokémon Go. The researchers cited tweets like "omg I'm catching Pokémon and driving" or "Just saw a kid get clipped by a car trying to catch a Pokémon" as examples of the sorts of tweets they were looking at and the information that could be obtained from them.
What the researchers found was that of the tweets analyzed, roughly 33 percent of them indicated that a driver, passenger or pedestrian was distracted by Pokémon Go—that's an estimated 113,000 incidents just over a ten day period. When the Google News results were analyzed the researchers found 14 Pokémon Go related car-crashes over the same time period, and in one of these cases the driver was so distracted they crashed their car into a tree (still doing better than that guy who rear-ended a cop though).
As the researchers pointed out in the study, distracted driving kills thousands of people in the US each year, and injures hundreds of thousands more. As such, there is a need to address the ways that people are getting distracted while driving and now that we are on the cusp of widespread augmented reality use, figuring out ways to safely incorporate AR into our lives is paramount.
In some cases, safety precautions can be taken by game developers to ensure that their product isn't being used while driving. Pokémon Go, for instance, doesn't allow you to hatch eggs if you're driving much faster than 15 miles per hour. While this is a start, it clearly wasn't enough of a deterrent for some players. Although the study's authors write that "now is the time to develop appropriate controls [for augmented reality games] before social norms develop that encourage unsafe practices," perhaps it would just be easier if you take a break from becoming a Pokémaster while operating that two-ton death machine otherwise known as a car.