Ever since pokemon goLaunched last summer, there have been plenty of anecdotal news and social media posts about players getting injured or even killed while playing the game. However, a new study from Purdue University uses detailed local traffic accident reports to suggest that: pokemon go caused a marked increase in vehicle damage, injuries and even deaths from people playing the game while driving.
In the provocative title “Death by Pokémon Go” (which has been shared online but has yet to be peer-reviewed), Purdue professors Mara Faccio and John J. McConnell studied nearly 12,000 accident reports in Tippecanoe County, Indiana, in the months prior. and after that pokemon go‘s July 6, 2016 launch. The authors then compared those reports with the Pokéstop locations in the province (where players often visit to obtain necessary in-game items) to determine whether the introduction of a Pokéstop correlated with an increase in accident frequency, compared to with intersections that don’t have them.
While the incidence of road accidents increased across the province pokemon goAt its introduction, that increase was statistically significant 26.5 percent greater at intersections within 100 yards of a Pokéstop, compared to those further away. Taken together, the authors estimate that there were 134 additional accidents nationwide near Pokéstops in the 148-day period immediately after the game came out, compared to the baseline where those Pokéstops did not exist. That adds up to nearly $500,000 in vehicle damage, 31 additional injuries and two additional deaths across the county, based on extrapolation from the accident reports.
The study uses a regression model to account for possible confounding variables such as school interruptions and bad weather, which can cause variation independent of pokemon go. The model also compares Pokéstops to Pokégyms (where it was nearly impossible to play while driving) to account for the possibility that generally more traffic to pokemon go locations led to more accidents, even among drivers who stopped and parked before playing. In all cases, being able to compare with intersections without Pokéstop and with the same dates the year before, natural control variables for the study, helped.
Other data points also suggest: pokemon go as the main culprit in the shift. For example, the relative increase in accidents in these locations closely matched the reported daily active users for the game worldwide, which peaked in July and declined steadily until November (the last month in the study). The effect is also measurably reduced if you increase the perceived distance of a Pokéstop between 50 and 500 meters. And the traffic reports themselves show a disproportionate increase in “distracted drivers” as the cited cause for intersections near Pokéstops after the game’s release (although limited sample size and issues with self-reported causes complicate this last data point).
Is this a big problem?
While the authors caution that extrapolating the results from one province to the entire country is “speculative,” the totals here suggest that more than 145,000 additional accidents, 29,000 additional injuries and 250 additional deaths may have been caused by playing. pokemon go while driving in the five-month period following the game’s release. And that doesn’t even take into account the fact that distracted players further away from Pokéstops will have accidents while searching for wild Pokémon or simply looking for unknown locations.
Developer Niantic has not ignored pokemon gopotential for causing distracted driving. As of last August, an update to the game warned players in fast-moving vehicles that “You’re going too fast! pokemon go should not be played while driving,” and asked them to confirm that they were a passenger before continuing. Then from November last year, Niantic started making the game virtually unplayable in a speeding vehicle, even for passengers.
That, coupled with the generally lower player counts since pokemon go‘s release, suggest that the game’s current effect on vehicle carnage may be reduced from the effect shown in the study. Still, with Niantic’s Harry Potter themed sequel pokemon go in the works, and as phone-related driving becomes an increasing problem across the country, it’s certainly one for developers and players of AR mobile games to keep an eye on.