Did Popular Phone App Cause an Increase in Car Accidents?

Did Popular Phone App Cause an Increase in Car Accidents?We have written in the past about the dangers of distracted driving. When we think of things that take our attention from the road, we often think of text messages, phone calls, large infotainment screens on the dashboard, or GPS systems. But a recent study has concluded an uptick in car accidents due to yet another kind of distraction behind the wheel.

Study Shows Accident Increase

Purdue University researchers have concluded that car accidents in one Indiana county significantly increased after the release of the phone app Pokemon Go. The study was called “Death by Pokemon Go” (seriously).

The game is one of the first augmented reality games. These games combine the “real world” with game elements. In Pokemon Go, for example, users must find certain game characters in real life locations. The phone’s GPS system and camera work together to figure out where the user is and make the characters the user seeks to collect appear on the phone screen.

The game uses what are known as “PokeStops.” These are landmarks where characters are known to be located, making them a target location for game players. The landmarks may be movie theaters or malls or simply roadside stops.

Researchers found that traffic accidents increased by 28% at these PokeStops. That number led to a total traffic accident increase of 47%.

Troublingly, the researchers got their inspiration to conduct the study from co-workers who told them that because they could not play the game at work, they simply played it in their car, going to or from work.

Causal Link Still Uncertain

It is worth noting that there is no evidence that the increase in car accidents at these locations, or after the release of the game, were actually caused by the game. In very few instances did police reports indicate distracted driving, and if they did, they did not specifically list the driver as playing Pokemon Go. The study is only pointing out the curious correlation between the game and its playing locations before and after the game’s release.

Additionally, the Purdue Study may not be an indication of driving habits around the country. The area where the study was conducted was mostly rural, near a major university, with a lot of younger drivers who may be less experienced, and more prone to playing games while driving.

Game Confirmed to Cause Numerous Accidents

Although the study does not exactly provide a causal link between the game and the accidents, during the height of the game’s popularity, there were more than a few accidents that were directly attributed to playing the game while driving.

On one occasion, a driver struck an unoccupied police car in Baltimore because he was playing the game. The Baltimore police even tweeted about the dangers of using the game while driving after that accident. In another incident, an accident occurred when a man raced into a parking lot in a rushed attempt to get to a gym where a Pokemon character was thought to be located.

The phrase “No Pokemon and Driving” was often used by law enforcement agencies and municipalities, to highlight the dangers of playing while driving.

Government and Technology Efforts to Deal With the Problem

Certainly Pokemon Go is not the only app that people have played while driving. The problem is one that could lead to an entire rethinking of the distracted driving problem.

Many law enforcement agencies and governments have spent money educating the public on texting while driving. Some phone manufacturers even have settings allowing the text message functioning of a phone to be disabled while the car is in motion. However, many of these are voluntary lock outs; they do not absolutely prohibit someone from using their phone while driving if they absolutely want to.

But almost no one has thought about the problem of using games while driving, or educating people on the dangers of using any kind of app while behind the wheel. In fact, some apps, such as those that may provide real time traffic, may even encourage usage while driving.

Solutions are hard to come by. Drivers would likely resist any technology that completely locks a phone when the car is in motion. Insurance companies could help, by providing lowered rates for people who voluntarily use this technology.

British Columbus is experimenting with having law enforcement videotape people using their phones behind the wheel, and then radioing to nearby officers to pull those drivers over and warn them. Whether that kind of intrusion would be tolerated in the United States is up for debate.

Proving Game Usage in Injury Lawsuits

Distracted drivers may admit in the workplace to playing a game and even joke about it. That does not mean they will be so ready to make that admission in court, after they are sued for causing a car accident.

It is not unusual for someone to lie about being distracted while driving after they are sued, but often text message activity can be obtained from the cell service providers, which can show that a driver was or was not active on their phones when the accident happened.

However, getting records to see if a driver was using Pokemon Go (or any other app) may be much more difficult. Records that log that kind of activity may need to be obtained from other sources, and experts in cell phone data activity may need to be used to interpret cell service records. No record is going to plainly show that someone was trying to collect a character at a PokeStop at a certain day and time.

The secret may be in obtaining any vehicle black box information to show erratic driving activity or slowdowns in strange locations. An especially abnormal driving pattern in random areas may be enough to show that at least the driver was distracted by something in the vehicle.

Proving a car accident case may require getting different kinds of evidence. Contact Brill & Rinaldi today about a free consultation if you are injured in a car crash.