Pokémon no! Playing the popular game while driving is risky

Large numbers of people are playing Pokémon Go in the car, causing dangerous distractions
Oct 11, 2016 — 7:00 am EST
Pokémon player

Playing Pokémon Go while driving causes risky distractions.

istockphoto

It seems everyone has caught the Pokémon craze. Just don’t let anyone drive and play Pokémon Go. Doing this while behind the wheel of a car simply isn’t safe, a new study finds.

That conclusion is hardly surprising. “Most people would say it’s not a good idea,” says David Strayer of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Yet alarming numbers of people do play the game while driving. They can be seen, phone in hand, flicking cartoon balls at cartoon creatures on the screen.

That’s what a new study reported online September 16 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Strayer wasn’t involved in the Pokémon Go study. He has, however, studied how cell phones can distract drivers. Playing an immersive video game such as Pokémon Go while driving may be even more dangerous than reading a text message while driving, he now says. That’s because it pulls attention away from the road longer and with more lasting effects.

John Ayers works at San Diego State University in California. For the new study, his team searched the social-media site Twitter for posts (or tweets) that contained the words Pokémon and “driving,” “drives,” “drive” or “car.” They turned up more than 345,000 tweets during just one 10-day period in July. Of those, 113,993 tweets indicated that a driver, passenger or pedestrian was distracted by the augmented-reality game.

“This is an incredibly large number,” says Ayers. And many more people likely played the game while driving without tweeting about it.

About one in every six of those tweets indicated a driver was playing the game, Ayers and his colleagues found. A little more than one in 10 came from distracted passengers. And one in every 25 came from pedestrians. News reports during that same time period showed that drivers playing Pokémon Go caused at least 14 car crashes.

Pokémon Go was designed to encourage people to explore their neighborhoods. Scattered PokéStops dispense Pokémon-catching tools. And the game’s creatures pop into existence as a player moves. Players incubate and hatch eggs containing the creatures by covering more ground.

Unlike activities such as texting, the game rewards players for moving around as they play, notes Ayers. The fact that moving around allows Pokémon players to rack up points “fosters dangerous behaviors,” he says.

And it’s not just drivers who can pose risks. Passengers trying to “catch them all” may direct drivers to stop, turn or make other dangerous moves, Strayer worries. Pedestrians playing the game may walk into traffic.

The game does ask players to confirm they are passengers if it senses they are moving too fast. But game makers could build more safety restrictions into the game, researchers say. For example, the game could freeze at driving speeds. Its designers also could make it inaccessible for a short while after a car comes to a stop. That, after all, might discourage stoplight play breaks, Ayers says.

Power Words

(for more about Power Words, click here)

behavior     The way a person or other organism acts towards others, or conducts itself.

colleague     Someone who works with another; a co-worker or team member.

incubate     Sitting on eggs to keep them at the right temperature until they hatch.

media     (in the social sciences) A term for the ways information is delivered and shared within a society. It encompasses not only the traditional media — newspapers, magazines, radio and television — but also Internet- and smartphone-based outlets, such as blogs, Twitter, Facebook and more. The newer, digital media are sometimes referred to as social media.

online     A term that refers to things that can be found or done on the Internet.

reward     (In animal behavior) A stimulus, such as a tasty food pellet, that is offered to an animal or person to get them to change their behavior or learn a task.

risk     The chance or mathematical likelihood that some bad thing might happen. For instance, exposure to radiation poses a risk of cancer. Or the hazard — or peril — itself. Among cancer risks that the people faced were radiation and drinking water tainted with arsenic.

social     (adj.) Relating to gatherings of people; a term for animals (or people) that prefer to exist in groups. (noun) A gathering of people, for instance those who belong to a club or other organization, for the purpose of enjoying each other’s company.

texting     The sending of a text message from a mobile (cell) phone.

tweet     Message consisting of 140 or fewer characters that is available to people with an online Twitter account.

Twitter     An online social network that allows users to post messages containing no more than 140 characters.

Citation

Journal:​ ​​ J.W. Ayers et al. Pokémon GO — A new distraction for drivers and pedestriansJAMA Internal Medicine. Published online September 16, 2016. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.6274.