Thursday, April 2, 2020
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News flash: Pokémon GO is distracting

We reported that college police departments and even local sheriff’s officers noted how distracted drivers and pedestrians became in playing Pokémon GO. Researchers have finally concluded, after several months of the wildly popular game on college campuses and elsewhere, that it can distract game players to the point of making them unsafe.

The research is published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. Here’s the press release.

Motorists, passengers and pedestrians beware. A new report published online by JAMA Internal Medicine suggests the wildly popular augmented reality game Pokémon GO is distracting.

John W Ayers, PhD, MA, of San Diego State University, California, and coauthors hunted through social media posts on Twitter and news stories in Google News to report on drivers distracted by the game and crashes potentially caused by players trying to collect Pokémon in real-world locations.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for a primary target audience of the game, those individuals between the ages of 16 and 24. Young drivers are susceptible to distraction, with the American Automobile Association reporting that 59 percent of all crashes by young drives involve distractions within six seconds of an accident.

Study authors collected a random sample of 4,000 tweets containing the terms Pokémon, driving, drives, drive or car for a 10-day period in July, as well as news reports that included the terms Pokémon and driving.

The authors report:

  • 33 percent of the tweets indicated that a driver, passenger or a pedestrian was distracted by Pokémon GO, which correlated to 113,993 incidents reported on Twitter in 10 days.
  • Of the tweets, 18 percent indicated a person was playing and driving (“omg I’m catching Pokémon and driving”); 11 percent indicated a passenger was playing (“just made sis drive me around to find Pokémon”); and 4 percent indicated a pedestrian was distracted (“almost got hit by a car playing Pokémon GO”).
  • 14 crashes were attributed to Pokémon GO, including one player who drove his car into a tree according to news reports.

“Pokémon GO is a new distraction for drivers and pedestrians, and safety messages are scarce,” the research letter reports.

The authors suggest their findings could help develop strategies for game developers, lawmakers and the public to limit the potential dangers of Pokémon.

“Pokémon GO makers can also voluntarily make their game safer. Game play is already restricted at speeds greater than 10 miles per hour. Making the game inaccessible for a period after any driving speed has been achieved may be necessary given our observations that players are driving or riding in cars. At the same time augmented reality games might be disabled near roadways or parking lots to protect pedestrians and drivers alike, given reports of distractions herein. Games might also include clear warnings about driving and pedestrian safety,” the report concludes.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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