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Pokémon GO: the latest driving hazard

In our last post, we reported on the increasing cases of distracted driving that are permeating U.S. roads. This week, we take a look at a newly established cause of road collisions: Pokémon GO.

You may have heard the buzz about this game when it was first released in the summer of 2016. With this free, mobile game, you can catch cartoon characters, known as Pokémon, and use them to help you reach other achievements.

What's unique about Pokémon GO is that it's an "augmented reality" game, meaning there is overlap between the cartoon game you see on your phone and your physical location in real life. The game recognizes your GPS location and shows you where other Pokémon are located in your vicinity. If you travel to that spot-a park, a mall, a parking lot-you can catch more Pokémon.

The game became an overnight success-breaking the record for most App Store downloads in the first week after its release. Suddenly, practically anywhere you turned, you could see gamers milling zombie-like around Pokémon hotspots, eyes glued to their phones.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to predict that distracted walking while catching Pokémon could quickly disintegrate into distracted driving while playing the game. Now more than a year after the game's release, the research is in to back these suspicions up.

Purdue University released a study, entitled "Death by Pokémon GO," in which researchers analyzed traffic in one county in Indiana. During the five-month period examined following the game's release, they found a 28 percent spike in car accidents near Pokémon hotspots. This number translates into 47 percent of the total increase of accidents in the county, more than 100 injuries and estimated millions of dollars in damages. The researchers postulated that if these results were extrapolated across the entire country, the implications on driver safety would be staggering.

The study concluded by highlighting the serious dangers associated with smartphone-caused distracted driving. In this era of increased opportunity for distractions in every aspect of our lives, it is more important than ever to stay alert and focused behind the wheel.

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