A study by two researchers at Purdue University has shown that Pokemon GO has had an adverse effect on road safety in the state, even claiming lives.
In the open-access paper, Mara Faccio and John J. McConnell went through police reports in Tippecanoe County, Indiana, and found a correlation between traffic accidents and Pokestop locations in Pokemon Go.
The takeaway from the paper was that the number of traffic accidents increased upon getting closer to PokeStops, the game’s points of focus based on real-world landmarks.
“In total, the estimated incremental costs associated with these crashes range from $5.2 million to $25.5 million with the variability in the range being largely attributable to the value assigned to the two incremental lives lost”, the paper reads.
Of course, Faccio and McConnel are far from trying to start another Pokemon Panic like that of the early 90s. In the article, they account for the fact that there’s no direct causation – meaning while accidents did happen and Pokestops were present, it’s not like they found Pikachu fur at the site of the crash.
“It could be that the observed increase in crashes is not due to the introduction of Pokémon GO but to another shock that correlates with the introduction of the game and vehicular crashes”, they note in the paper.
They specifically note that simply having more people in the area could have had an impact on accidents, rather than the stereotype of drivers swerving three lanes because they heard a Pokemon spawn.
“It is, for example, possible that the introduction of Pokémon GO increased driving near Pokémon GO-related points of play as players drove to these locations for the purpose of playing the game, but did not play the game until after parking their cars”, the paper notes.
One of the points made by the paper was the estimated cost of all these Pokemon-related accidents. Ethical implications aside, the paper notes that their estimations varied depending on how they would choose to value lives lost.
That being said, their graph makes a very convincing point. The major spike directly coincides with the game’s release in the US, and the fact that Pokemon GO would later add warnings about playing while driving is sign that the smartphone game was at least partially the cause of these accidents.
At the end of the day, there’s only so much a smartphone game can do before the onus starts falling on adults to not be so enamored with a fictional rat that they wreck their car- or worse, their lives.