Pokemon Go led to hundreds of traffic deaths, study suggests

More deaths, more injuries in far more car crashes, Purdue researchers say

We know that technology can have unintended consequences, like the obesity epidemic or robots stealing our jobs. A recent study by researchers from Purdue University's Krannert School of Management measures one more way technology has wreaked havoc in our lives.

We're used to associating in-car GPS, infotainment systems and general cellular phone usage with distracted driving and increased traffic fatalities. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ( NHTSA) reports that in 1988, traffic fatalities numbered 42,130, then steadily declined to 29,867 through 2011. Then the trend reversed, hitting 37,461 traffic deaths for 2016. Professors Mara Faccio and John J. McConnell decided to investigate the distraction factor — using Pokémon as inspiration.

Not too long ago, there was a rash of people who looked like they were taking selfies of themselves, except they were walking — sometimes right in front of your moving vehicle. They were caught up in Pokémon Go, and the craze was so hot, the app was downloaded over 100 million times in less than a month.

So McConnell and Faccio collected crash statistics in Tippecanoe County, Ind., to see whether the accident rate was higher near a "PokéStop" (a location to catch virtual Pokémon). Data were collected between March 1, 2015, and Nov. 30, 2016, with the professors discovering a spike in accidents at locations within 100 yards of a PokéStop. With Pokémon Go's introduction on July 6, 2016, the professors noted a 26.5 percent increase in the possibility of an accident; when the Pokémon GO craze trailed off, so did the increase.

Since Faccio and McConnell are, by and large, statisticians, they have applied their findings on a national level: They estimate Pokémon Go to have increased crashes by 145,632, with injuries increasing by 29,370 — and deaths by 256. The economic costs are also profound, with estimates ranging from $2 billion to over $7 billion in the first 148 days the app was available.

It should be noted that the study's claims haven't been through the peer review process, but it's a grim reminder that we need to be more present when we're on the road — and sidewalk.

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