Pokémon NO: Why You Shouldn’t Catch and Drive

By: Bridget Clerkin July 18, 2016
With the new gaming craze comes very serious distracted driving concerns.
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What has higher HP, your Charizard—or your car?

Several battles have been waged between the two lately, and so far, the cars have been taking much more damage.

For those who are unaware, a phenomenon by the name of Pokémon GO was recently unleashed upon the world, and the fallout from the planet’s first widespread augmented reality game has only begun to manifest.

Users of the app are implored to explore the great outdoors to find and “catch” a slew of digital monsters running amok—the more, the better, as the game’s motto, “Gotta Catch ‘Em All,” suggests.

Players use their phones as their guide, viewing the world through their screen, which inlays the simulated creatures—including the intimidating orange dragon-like Charizard—on top of their actual surroundings.

While these creatures can be trained to take part in epic gaming battles, so far, a bulk of the harm has been inflicted on the Pokémon’s human counterparts—and their vehicles.

A Faster Way to Catch ‘Em All

Originally intended as a way to introduce more fresh air, sunshine, and moderate exercise into the life of the average gamer, the app’s easy portability has led to its use in a variety of places, the most troubling being at the helm of moving vehicles.

Players have taken the game on the road as a way to more quickly curate their collection of pocket monsters, creeping along the streets in search of the elusive beasts and sporadically stopping when one suddenly appears nearby.

And while the strategy has no doubt helped boost the menagerie of those who employ it, it’s also responsible for increasing the car insurance rates of many others, whose vehicles end up looking more like Onyx, the Pokémon monster made out of rubble.

The program has caused so much trouble on the roads so quickly that, though it was released just over a week ago, police stations across the country are already openly warning drivers about the game. “Don’t Pokémon and Drive” is a typical message now visible from American highways, flashing in the orange lights of warning from digital roadway signs.

The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department has even gone as far as suggesting “designated drivers” for those who wish to collect their creatures from the car.

Distracted drivers aren’t the only ones posing a threat on the roads, as more pedestrians with downturned faces and diverted gazes will be needing to cross streets to find desirable creatures.

And while no major accidents have happened yet—the most serious incident, so far, has been an upstate New York man colliding with a tree, but surviving the event—some experts warn the app presents perhaps the biggest threat to a road already filled with distractions.

Eyes on the Prize

That little beep, buzz, or special tune: whatever it is, you’ve likely been trained to react to it instantly. It’s the sound your phone makes when you receive a text, and for the past few years it’s been the fastest-growing precursor to deadly motor vehicle accidents in America.

But while reading a text takes a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of just 4.6 seconds, the immersive nature of Pokémon GO will likely leave them staring at the road not through their own eyes but the screen of their phone. Not helping the situation are the wily monsters themselves, which may dodge attempts to ensnare them in a Poké ball prison.

The game is also designed to reward those who “search far and wide” for their lure, awarding more points—and potential to encounter Poké-beasts—to those who cover more ground while the app is open.

While likely intended to get more players out and about on foot, it creates a tempting opportunity for motorists with an eye on Pokémaster-dom to leave the app running, even while they’re behind the wheel.

And though a number of states have legislation banning any use of mobile devices on the road, the wording in others is more specific—referring to only texts or phone calls—making it unclear if those laws could be used to discourage the practice.

A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

We live in a complicated world, war-torn, dangerous, and saddening in many ways. In America alone, the past decade has included economic downturns, escalations of war, and the constant fear of terrorist threat.

It’s natural, in times like this, to be wistful for a whimsical escape, to welcome with open arms the cute and harmless distractions of so many mystical creatures who loyally obey your commands. But as augmented and virtual reality becomes an ever-increasing presence, it’s important to remember the world around us has very tangible consequences—and that, if we make a fatal mistake here, there is no “start over.”

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