Last summer, Pokémon Go brought the Pokémon franchise a level of popularity and media attention it had not seen since its debut in the 1990s. Unfortunately, that level of popularity also had some unintended (and dangerous) consequences. A new study, titled Death by Pokémon Go, shows that the popular augmented reality game was partially responsible for an increase in traffic accidents and traffic-related deaths.
Economists at Purdue University analyzed traffic accident reports from Tippecanoe County, Indiana during the game’s first 148 days and found an increase in traffic accidents related to the game. Mara Faccio and John McConnell found that during the months in which their study took place, Tippecanoe County had two-traffic related deaths and an increased number of accidents and injuries valued between $5.2 million and $25.5 million. From there, the two researchers estimated that if you apply this data to the U.S. as a whole, you’d find that the country lost between $2 billion to $7.3 billion.
An increase in traffic accidents doesn’t necessarily mean that it due to people playing Pokémon Go while driving. It is possible that the higher number of accidents stemmed from the increased traffic the game brought. When looking at the number of crashes in close proximity to Pokémon Gyms and Pokéstops, the team found something rather interesting, however.
First of all, it’s important to understand what Gyms and Pokéstops are used for. In short, Pokéstops are businesses or other locations that players can stop by to get free items and gyms are where players do battle. Pokémon Go is designed around players walking to these locations. Unsurprisingly, not everyone is going to do that. Some players, especially those outside of larger cities, were more likely to drive to those locations. That, in and of itself, is fine, but it turns out that some people were playing the game while driving or recklessly or getting out of moving cars.
In order to prevent the rather obvious accidents this could have caused, Niantic disabled the ability for the game to be played if you were moving at high speeds. However, this wasn’t implemented universally. The team found that the high-speed restrictions were not in place for some Pokéstops and they noticed that accidents were much higher in areas close proximity to Pokéstops. This is how the researchers determined that Pokémon Go was, in fact, contributing to traffic accidents.