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The Journal Gazette

September 20, 2016 1:01 AM

Pokemon cited as public-health concern

You might think it’s too early for serious scientific research on the effects of the Pokemon Go craze. But you would be wrong. A study published last week on the Journal of American Medicine’s Online First suggests that chasing those little digital creatures with an iPhone while you’re behind the wheel indeed can be a dangerous distraction.

By looking at a random sample of Twitter postings from July 10 to July 20, researchers extrapolated that there were 113,993 incidents in which “a driver, passenger, or pedestrian was distracted by Pokemon Go” during that 10-day period.

A keyword review of Google News reports during that same period showed that “there were 14 unique crashes – 1 player drove his car into a tree – attributed to Pokemon Go in news reports during the same period.”

The study’s authors emphasize that much more research must be done before scientifically sound conclusions about Pokemon Go and driving can be made. But even the 10-day sample they took indicates that people who chase the illusory creatures while they’re behind the wheel may be putting themselves and others at risk.

Among the comments picked up from the researchers’ Twitter search:

“Just saw a kid get clipped by a car trying to catch a Pokemon ...”

“My mom just legit stopped the car in the middle of the road to catch a Pokemon.”

“Almost got hit by a car playing Pokemon Go.”

“It is in the public interest to address augmented reality games before social norms develop that encourage unsafe practices,” the study concluded. “Now is the time to develop appropriate controls.”

Solutions, the researchers suggested, might include warning labels, disabling the functioning of Pokemon games in cars traveling more than 10 mph, and keeping areas near roadways and parking lots free of wild Pokemon and PokeStops.