According to accident reports and Twitter, playing Pokemon GO has led to distraction and at least some car crashes or near-crashes.
In the augmented reality game, players use their mobile devices to collect Pokemon cartoon characters in real world locations, which rewards moving around as much as possible. The game is disabled when you're moving faster than 10 miles per hour.
Over a 10-day period in July of this year, John Ayers of San Diego State University in California and his colleagues collected a random sample of 4,000 tweets containing the terms "Pokemon" and "driving," "drives," "drive" or "car." Each of the analyzed tweets was reviewed by four individuals and categorized.
They also identified reports of crashes caused by Pokemon GO according to Google News.
"We wanted to do rapid detection so we looked at what the public was saying in their own words on social media," Ayers said.
About a third of the 4,000 tweets indicated that a driver, passenger or pedestrian was distracted by the game, for example, "omg I'm catching Pokemon and driving." The researchers say this proportion translates to 113,993 incidence reports on the whole of Twitter during the 10-day period.
Thirteen percent of the tweets had to do with safety, and the remaining 54 percent were hypothetical or unclear.
Most often tweets mentioned driving and playing. Distracted passengers and pedestrians playing the game were mentioned less often.
"The problem is probably much large than that, as not everyone is reporting it on Twitter or is on Twitter," Ayers told Reuters Health by phone. "The only thing preventing them from getting in a car crash is luck, they're distracted and they're walking into traffic."
There were 14 car crashes related to the game reported on Google News during the same period, according to the research letter in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Many have praised Pokemon GO for encouraging physical activity, but the target audience of the game, 15- to 24-year-olds, aren't necessarily dying from weight-related issues like diabetes, Ayers said. The leading cause of death for young adults is motor vehicle crashes.
"Collateral consequences may eclipse benefit in this case," he said.
The mobile game and mobile device industry has all the information necessary to respond to this issue, he said.
"We know if you're in a car, we know if you're on a roadway or near a roadway," he said. "Why not make the game inaccessible?"
"People can go out and advocate for that but we need policymakers and leaders to reeducate themselves and consider regulating gameplay in this same way," he said. "Why you should be able to open the app up when you're near a roadway or in a car is beyond me."