The countdown began seconds after the first Pokemon Go app was downloaded. How long, the world wondered, would it be before some moron tried to play it while driving? It wasn't a matter of "if" but "when," as if the coming of Pokemon Go and its accompanying silliness had been foretold in ancient times. As if Nostradamus had predicted, "In the year 2016, seventh month, from the east will come a great handheld addiction. To bring back to life a storied media franchise, King of the Mindless, just like old Pokemon – but to go."
It didn't take long. To date, there have been a number of Pokemon Go driving disasters, even though the game appears to stop registering your play if you are travelling at more than 25 km/h. In Baltimore and Quebec City, motorists playing Pokemon Go crashed into parked police cars. The Baltimore driver was captured on police camera saying, "That's what I get for playing this dumb game."
In Australia, where they have flashing signs that read "Don't drive and Pokemon," a 19-year-old crashed into a school. A number of drivers have smashed into trees. One Tesla Model S owner hacked into his touchscreen to play Pokemon Go. In Innisfil, Ont., they nearly scored the Pokemon Go exacta when a driver playing Pokemon Go almost hit a pedestrian playing Pokemon Go.
Pokemon Go drivers (think of them as "Pokemon dopes") are a phenomenon that has astounded the auto sector, despite the fact that every time a new high-tech connectivity device is introduced, people almost immediately try to use it while behind the wheel.
"It was a complete surprise," says Anne Marie Thomas, of Insurance Hotline, a Canadian online rate comparison website. "I thought texting while driving was bad. Now we're playing games while driving. Everywhere I go, I see them playing it."
Playing Pokemon Go while driving is like smoking crack in public. It's bad enough doing it in private, but taking it into the great wide world somehow makes it worse. Motorists who are not able to resist Pikachu's siren call face significant penalties. Thomas says that in Ontario, they could be charged with careless driving, which carries a hefty fine and six demerit points – and they could face a 100 per cent increase in their insurance rates.
"Distracted driving is where drunk driving used to be," says Thomas, who notes that distracted driving fatalities have doubled since 2000. "I don't think enough people are being charged. It doesn't feel real." Statistics back this up. According to research conducted by American insurer Liberty Mutual Insurance and SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions), 27 per cent of teens admit to texting and driving, but a whopping 68 per cent admit to using apps while driving.
The effects of distraction are real enough and it seems that those on foot are paying the biggest price. So far, one pedestrian playing Pokemon Go has been struck and killed. A pregnant woman playing the game was intentionally run over by a hit-and-run driver and had to have an emergency c-section.
The most obvious cure to the practice is common sense. Sadly, that commodity is not in plentiful supply. How do you tell an adult, "Do not hunt for imaginary Japanese characters while driving an automobile"? The app explicitly tells players not to drive. How do you keep a straight face? How do you do resist the urge to strike them?
It's possible that we could harness the power of Pokemon to stop the abuse. People who feel compelled to play might listen to a credible expert. I can see the billboards now: "Jigglypuff says: 'Don't be a son of a Bulbasaur! Don't Pokemon Go and drive!'"
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