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Traffic crashes increased after Pokémon Go came out, researchers say

A car in Auburn, N.Y., a man crashed into a tree while driving and playing Pokémon Go  on his smartphone late in the evening on July 12  in the Finger Lakes region of the state. Authorities said Steven Cary suffered a broken ankle and cuts to both legs. His injuries could have been worse because the impact of the crash nearly sent the car’s engine into the passenger compartment. (Auburn Police Department via Associated Press)

A study by Purdue University professors found a significant increase in the number of traffic accidents after the release of Pokémon Go last year — and particularly close to locations that were most desirable for players to capture the game’s sought-after cartoon characters.

In a study called “Death by Pokémon Go,”  Profs. Mara Faccio and John J. McConnell analyzed thousands of traffic accident reports for a single Indiana county after the video game was introduced, focusing particularly on PokéStops. These are especially active locations for players, often near notable landmarks, such as a town hall, because players can collect the animated cartoon characters there for free.

Overall, the research found a a 28 percent increase in crashes near  PokéStops after the introduction of the video game in July 2016 — an increase that accounted that accounted for a 47-percent of the total increase in traffic accidents around the county, Faccio said in an interview Tuesday.

“We didn’t know whether we would find anything,” Faccio said late Tuesday in an interview. Faccio, who said she plays the game (but never while driving) said she was surprised by the results.

Maybe she shouldn’t be. She said she decided to investigate after a disturbing conversation with an acquaintance, who had quickly gained a high ranking following Pokémon Go’s introduction on July 6, 2016. Faccio asked the person whether the person played the game at work.

“The person said, ‘No, I play while I go to work,’ ” Faccio recalled. The person admitted to playing the game on a smartphone while driving. “And so I got very anxious to learn that people, one possibly more, play the game while driving,” Faccio said. The professors noted crashes attributed to the Pokémon Go craze appeared anecdotally in the press.

Pokemon Go crash is proof texting and driving is out of control

The researchers analyzed approximately 12,000  police reports for Tippecanoe County,
Ind., from March 1, 2015, to Nov. 30, 2016. They then focused on the period after the introduction of Pokémon Go on July 6, 2016, when the app was downloaded more than 100 million times.

The police reports included the locations, fatalities, injuries, estimates of the cost of damages, and the stated cause. Some police reports attributed the self-reported cause of crash to distracted driving, but most did not but the research — which was reported in Gizmodo — showed a spike in accidents following Pokémon Go’s introduction.

In their analysis, which was completed earlier this month, the professors  estimated the cost of the increased number of crashes correlated with the game’s introduction ranged from $5.2 million to $25.5 million in the 148-day period they examined after  the game’s introduction. If extrapolated to a national level, the number would reach anywhere from $2 billion to $7.3 billion. They also concluded more than 100 people more were injured.

Here’s some technology that might help keep your eyes on the road

Faccio said the research suggests distracted driving, particularly as caused by smartphones, is a serious problem, as she has seen from talking with Pokémon Go players — or just walking to work on campus.

“One of the reasons perhaps I got interested in this topic is that very often when I’m walking to work I cross the street, and it’s not uncommon to see people talking on their phones,” she said.

–This file has been updated to correct that the study found that the crashes near PokéStops accounted for 47 percent of the total increase in crashes observed in the county.

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