Pokemon Go: Worse than Texting and Driving?

two females standing by car accident, driving and textingCar accident fatalities, after declining for decades thanks to car safety innovations, like seatbelts and airbags, and public safety campaigns against drunken driving, are starting to rise once more. These rates are increasing due to some factors, chiefly, distracted driving. Pokemon Go, the latest craze to hit the smartphone industry, is highlighting this often ignored the problem.

Distracted Driving by the Numbers

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety distracted driving accounts for about 16 percent of all fatal crashes, which amounts to about 5,000 deaths a year. Moreover, AAA found that almost 90 percent of people believe texting and driving are dangerous however 42 percent admit to having done it in the past month.

Furthermore, according to Robert Puentes, President and Chief Execute of the Eno Center for Transportation, distracted driving can be attributed to over 400,000 injuries a year.

The Problem

Drivers are presented with a dizzying array of devices and toys that pull their attention from the road. The Washington Post argues that people will continue to text and play games, like Pokemon Go, and drive because they know the odds of receiving a ticket are low. However, the problem is likely more nuanced than mere blanket criminality.

Everyone recognizes that distracted driving is dangerous, like speeding, but they do it regardless. Why? Part of the problem is that no one believes that an accident, or ticket, will happen to them. That particular person is too good of a driver to get into an accident, accidents happens to “other” people.

Blanket criminality likely plays a part in the equation but it is too simple to explain the entire scenario. It is these nuances that make curbing distracted driving so difficult.

Pokemon Go

Pokemon Go, unlike texting, is a form of distracted driving to the extreme. In July, a man is crashed into a tree in Auburn, New York, is merely the latest example. Pokemon Go is a mobile application game that overlays cartoon creatures onto the real-world. Players look at their phones and the cartoon creatures appear in the real world through their camera. Niantic, the company that created the game, calls this “augmented reality.”

It is an enormous commercial success and is the most downloaded application on the Apple and Android app stores. However, it also has few controls to prevent drivers from driving and playing.

Political Solutions

46 states and the District of Columbia outlaw some form of texting and driving. Police engage in creative campaigns to catch distracted drivers, like dressing up as a homeless person to catch texters in the act. Non-profits and the Department of Transportation run annual drives, like the AT&T “It Can Wait” campaign however none of these efforts are curbing the relentless increase in driver accident and fatalities.

If drivers continue to over-estimate their abilities or place their immediate gratification over their safety and the safety of those around them, then no amount of government regulation will prevent people from playing Pokemon Go and driving.

Technological Solutions

According to Joe Brennan, President and Chief Executive of Trinity-Noble, a company that developed a device that blocks the driver’s cell phone when a vehicle is moving faster than ten mph, only the blanket use of jammers will prevent distracted driving. However, federal law prohibits the use of electronic jammers except by the federal government (to protect Presidential and VIP motorcades from remote-controlled attacks).

Partisan gridlock has so far stymied efforts by Mr. Brennan and other anti-distracted driving advocates to repeal that law or pass new regulations. In the meantime, Trinity-Noble also developed a series of apps to curb distracted driving.

For example, Guardian Angel prevents users from driving and texting and Autolog which detects and reports drivers that use a cell phone while driving. Autolog is currently in use by some transportation and delivery companies.

Moreover, the New York General Assembly will debate a law that permits police to use Textalyzer, a device that can analyze a driver’s cell phone following an accident to determine if the owner was texting and driving immediately prior. But there are concerns by privacy advocates that the police may utilize the device in other contexts.

No easy solution

Unfortunately, most of those apps are voluntary and designed to ensure that parents can prevent their teen drivers from texting and driving. So far there is no solution that will curb a mildly determined texter and driver. Some advocates, including Mr. Brennan, believe that the only viable solution is mandatory installation of jamming devices on all vehicles.

However, a blanket ban, implicates a host of other issues, the least of which is the struggle between government overreach and personal responsibility. Pokemon Go, while far more distracting than texting and driving, is merely the latest incarnation in a long upward trend of more accidents and fatalities.

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