Is Pokémon Go the new distracted driving epidemic?
Just last month I would never have imagined I would be writing the words ‘Pokémon’ and ‘distracted driving’ in the same sentence. But, things changed on July 5, when Nintendo’s latest app was introduced to the world.
Pokémon Go was first launched in Australia and New Zealand, followed by America, then Europe. Within just days it was trending on Twitter and was the talk of Facebook, and within a week it had reportedly been downloaded more times than dating app Tinder had since it was launched four years ago. By the middle of July, Pokémon Go was estimated to be on five per cent of smartphones and had apparently claimed the title of ‘most downloaded app ever’.
It is therefore something of an understatement to say the game is proving a hit, so what’s the problem and how does it relate to distracted driving?
The problem is not the app itself, but the fact that some of the people using it are finding the game so addictive they are continuing to play it while driving.
Some have even posted on social media, readily admitting to using the app while at the wheel. One Twitter user posted the message: ‘I probably shouldn’t be playing PokemonGo while driving but it’s too addicting and I mean look at this #PokemonGO’ while another wrote: ‘Pokemon Go and driving is about to become a major problem and I’m sure I’m going to contribute to it shortly’.
People have already been spotted using the app while driving by police. On 14 July it was reported that Sydney police had caught two teenagers playing the game while driving near a busy pedestrian crossing.
And the use of Pokémon Go while driving was reportedly the cause of an incident in which a man drove his vehicle into a tree.
But it’s not just drivers that are putting themselves and others at huge risk; it’s also people who are using the app while walking. One teen ended up in hospital after getting hit by a car while playing the game. In a news report her mum was quoted as saying: “She was hit by a car crossing the highway where a Pokemon took her. The Pokemon game took her across a major, major highway at 5 o’clock in the evening.”
It is for these very reasons that road safety organisations, government departments and insurance companies from several countries quickly devised and released safety advice specifically relating to Pokémon Go.
Many Department of Transportations from states across the U.S. have issued warnings to drivers and some have launched campaigns, such as the Texas DoT’s ‘Don’t #PokemonGO and Drive’ social media campaign.
AAA Mid-Atlantic released a statement warning both drivers and pedestrians about the dangers of becoming distracted by the app.
“Pokémon Go is a game. Driving is NOT a game,” said Ragina Cooper Averella, public and government affairs manager for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “Playing games while driving is a distraction just like sending or reading a text while driving. Put your phone down while behind the wheel. One quick text or glance to see the next Pokéstop could end up causing a crash or worse – costing you or someone else their life.”
The RAC breakdown service in the UK was another organisation to urge motorists to remain vigilant and not to play the game when driving, while also keeping an eye out for Pokémon Go playing pedestrians.
RAC spokesman, Pete Williams, was quoted as saying: “The Pokémon Go revolution could take the illegal use of hand-held mobile phones at the wheel to another level.
“It has to be ‘Pokémon no-Go’ when driving but it is just as important that pedestrians don’t get caught in the Pokémon mist and find themselves stepping into the path of danger.
“The risks are obvious but this feels like a whole new level of gaming addiction and yet another reason for people to be glued to their smart phones instead of looking where they are going.
“The game is proving massively popular with children and adults alike and is an encouragement for people to get out and explore their locality and beyond in their search for Pokémon characters but it is critical that drivers are not tempted to have the app running on their mobile phone when driving.
“Pokémon Go may well be welcome entertainment for children stuck in the back of the car on a long journey this summer but parents will now be faced with a new challenge of constant requests to change route, slow down or speed up so their passengers can catch Pokémon characters.”
Of course, the developers did not design the game for use while driving and apparently a message pops up every time the app is opened, telling players to be aware of their surroundings. In a statement, developer Niantic said:
‘Please remember to be safe and alert at all times’.
If you have been swept up by the Pokémon Go craze, here are our tip tips for staying safe while using the app:
- NEVER use your phone while driving – it is illegal and also highly dangerous. Turn it off or put it in the trunk/boot to avoid temptation.
- Avoid using the app while a passenger in a vehicle, especially if you are with a young or new driver. Your actions could be a huge distraction.
- Be aware of your surroundings while using the app; don’t get so caught up in it that you don’t look where you are walking!
- If playing while walking, don’t put other road users at risk by running close to or onto the road – a driver may slam the brakes on or swerve to avoid you.
What are your thoughts? Could Pokémon Go be the next distracted driving epidemic? I’d love to hear your comments.