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Crash Augments Reality — Pokemon Lessons (Hopefully) Learned

09/30/2016
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In my previous blog, I discussed the perverse role new safe-driving technology plays in vehicles on the road today. In this blog, I discuss the dangers associated with what I call GWD (Gaming While Driving), specifically the use of augmented reality cellphone apps like the disturbingly popular Pokémon Go.

Recently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released the results of a recently commissioned study which determined the prevalence of instances where Pokémon Go was being used while driving, and when such use led to a crash. The study, which was released in the Journal of the American Medical Association, relied on public, anonymized data sourcing from Google and Twitter between July 10th and July 20th.

In just 10 days, there were 113, 993 total incidences reported on Twitter alone where a driver, passenger, or pedestrian reported being distracted by Pokémon Go. That is a staggering figure. During that same time period, 14 separate car crashes were reported in news reports. One report included a player who crashed his vehicle into a tree — attributing the crash to being distracted by Pokémon Go.

There’s no dispute that distracted driving kills thousands of individuals in the United States every year, and that thousands more are injured as the result of distracted driving. This new NHTSA study shows that Pokémon Go is a  now a legitimate new distraction for drivers (and pedestrians). Pokémon Go is the latest example of how our cellphones are becoming deadly weapons while driving.

Augmented reality apps, like Pokémon Go, need not be deadly. There are safety measures that can and should be taken by game developers to prevent users from GWD, namely preventing a user from playing the game while moving at vehicle speeds. The onus is on both the user and the developer to take safety precautions to prevent distracted driving, however the developer has the unique power to implement any safety controls within the app itself.  As the NHTSA study concludes, “now is the time to develop appropriate controls [for augmented reality games] before social norms develop that encourage unsafe practices.”

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