Pokémon Go is the latest craze your kids are probably already playing—it’s an augmented reality app that adds to a growing list of ways young drivers and cyclists can be distracted while traveling on our roadways. While distracted driving is not a new problem, it’s one that has grown to frightening proportions in recent years—the website distraction.gov cites a staggering 3,129 people killed by distracted driving in 2014 alone.
So how is Pokémon Go adding a new level of risk? To understand the threat to our young people and all others with whom they share the roads, one needs to recognize the popularity of this new game. For a generation that grew up in the 90s, the world of Pokémon was everything. Children were not only enamored with the characters and accompanying games, but also bombarded by all the trading cards, pogs, plushies and other merchandise in what the media dubbed Pokémania. Now, as many of these individuals are reaching driving age, this new app encourages a frenetic search for these familiar, fantasy-based characters in the real world, thanks to the camera and GPS technology within game players’ smartphones.
Before dismissing the threat posed, consider that the driver of a crashed car in Auburn, New York admitted to police that he was distracted by Pokémon Go before running off the road and striking a tree on the night of July 12th—making it the first traffic incident attributed to the game, but not the app’s only foray into the headlines. A cursory Google search result shows numerous hacks and how-to videos demonstrating that it’s not just young drivers looking away from the road to capture a character. Explorers of the pedal-power variety are also putting themselves in harm’s way as they fixate on handlebar-mounted phones to seek out the next prized character. An even more bizarre threat according to news sources is that of hackers and thieves hijacking the app to lure and rob game players who are otherwise absorbed. Only time will tell the extent to which this game could distract a sizeable portion of our young population.
Whether it’s the makers of mobility-driven apps like Pokémon Go, the children and young adults themselves or even the influencers in their lives, it all comes down to responsibility and accountability. EndDD.org, the website for End Distracted Driving, urges that driving should never be a secondary task when behind the wheel of a car—it should be the only task. This is the attitude we need to teach as well as take upon ourselves if we are to break this dangerous habit.
Created by the parents of a young woman killed by a distracted driver, EndDD.org is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving life and promoting driver safety through advocacy, education and action. You can learn more by visiting www.enddd.org/end-distracted-driving/.
A West Point graduate where he served as captain and military aviator, John Bair continues his commitment to our country through his efforts within the settlement planning industry. He has represented families of victims lost in the Flight 3407 crash, offered pro bono services to the families of 9/11 victims and drafted the first consumer protection bill for plaintiffs (H.R. 3699).