Pokémon Go may have caused more than 250 deaths in 148 days, researchers claim

Not to mention $7.3 billion of damage

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Remember last summer when everyone forgot Brexit and managed to silence any nagging thoughts of an imminent Trump presidency long enough to get addicted to Pokémon Go? If you were one of those people, you may remember that after a short time, developer Niantic updated the game with a warning not to play while driving. Surely nobody was reckless enough to need that warning, right?

Apparently, they were – and with fatal consequences, according to a new paper from Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management, which examined nearly 12,000 police accident reports for Tippecanoe County, Indiana, between 1 March 2015 to 30 November 2016. Extrapolating their findings to the entire country, the researchers estimated that Pokémon Go was not only involved in 256 avoidable deaths in 148 days but that the crashes did between £2 billion and $7.3 billion worth of damage in the process.

The date range was deliberately picked in order to compare life before and after the time when America briefly became Pokémon mad. Because Pokémon Go features Pokéstops mapped to real-world locations, the researchers knew good spots to focus their attentions on. Comparing crash locations to Pokéstop spots, the researchers ran “difference-in-differences analysis that controls for a variety of possible confounding factors”, ultimately finding that “the increase in the number of crashes at locations in the proximity of Pokéstops that can be attributed to the introduction of Pokémon GO is 134 across the county over the 148 days that followed the introduction of the game.”

The county as a whole saw an increase of 286 crashes in the same period, meaning the researchers reckon that AR battle monsters were responsible for a 47% increase in crashes and a 22% increase in the dollar value of vehicular damage – a whopping $498,567 worth.

Then, of course, there was the human cost, which came to 31 injuries and two deaths. “On an even sadder note, our analyses indicate that the county would have experienced two fewer traffic fatalities had Pokémon GO not been introduced,” the researchers write.

It would be ridiculous to place blame on the game developers Niantic, of course (though we have contacted them for comment) – especially as the company took the step to place warnings on the startup screen. Indeed, the researchers note that the introduction of smartphones in general seems to correlate with an uptick in road accidents after years of decline. Driverless cars can’t come soon enough.

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