Distracted ‘Pokémon Go’ Players Caused an Estimated 100,000 Traffic Accidents

Remember when everyone and their tech-savvy mom was obsessed with Pokémon Go last summer? The augmented reality mobile game racked up an astounding 100 million-plus downloads when it debuted in July 2016 and seemed to hypnotize entire swaths of the phone-toting population. Now, a new report suggests all that hunting for Bulbasuars (but mostly catching Rattatas) was so addictive, the game may have led to an uptick in traffic accidents, injuries, and other destruction.

As you my recall, players blindly swarmed virtual Pokéstops located in unsuspecting real-world locales attempting to catch 'em all, and stumbled across dead bodies, fell off cliffs, and got stabbed in the process. Some even bragged about playing while behind the wheel. You better believe Pikachu is pissed. 

Although there's no question that driving while searching for virtual Squirtles is dangerous, a new study from researchers at Purdue University found that people playing Pokémon Go while behind the wheel may have resulted in more than 100,000 traffic accidents across the country.

The study, disturbingly titled Death by Pokémon Go, is based on traffic accident data from Tippecanoe County, Indiana between March 1, 2015, and November 30, 2016. What it found is that traffic accidents increased across the entire county in that period and the likelihood of an accident occurring within 100 meters of a Pokéstop was 26.5 percent higher. Additionally, they discovered that the traffic reports showed a disproportionate increase in "distracted driver" as the cause of accidents near Pokéstops.

Based on the data, the researchers went on to extrapolate that nearly $500,000 in additional damage, 31 additional injuries, and two additional deaths within Tippecanoe County can be attributed to the game. When scaled nationally, the study's authors speculate that 145,632 crashes across the country could be linked to people playing the game, as well as an increase of 29,370 injuries and 256 deaths. From an economic perspective, they estimate the cost associated with people playing while driving to be somewhere between $2 billion and $7.3 billion within the 148 days of its introduction. Yikes.

Of course, it's not entirely fair to blame traffic accidents on a mobile game -- it's the drivers themselves who allowed themselves to be distracted, just as they do when they choose to text or mess with a Spotify playlist while their eyes should be on the road. And to its credit, the game's developers have subsequently rolled out updates that make it much more difficult to play while driving.

Then again, all of this fresh intel must feel pretty validating for the hordes who never gave in to the whole Pokémon GO craze.

h/tGizmodo, Ars Technica

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Joe McGauley is a senior writer for Thrillist. Follow him @jwmcgauley.