Distracted driving accidents are getting worse because of apps

Apps may have played a significant role in the upsurge in distracted driving deaths in recent years.

For most people, Pokémon GO is simply a fun game that uses augmented reality to get players to roam the real world in search of Pokémons and Poké Stops. However, while the game itself may be an innocent diversion, when used behind the wheel of a car it can become a dangerous distraction.

There has even been local evidence of this particular distracted-driving problem. For example, The Virginian-Pilot, citing an affidavit in support of a search warrant, described a 2016 incident in which a drunk driver in Virginia Beach, who had allegedly opened Pokémon GO on his mobile phone, proceeded to hit a pedestrian and three other vehicles.

Pokémon GO and distracted driving

Ars Technica reports that a recent study suggests that distracted driving accidents increased by up to 150,000 in the first few months after Pokémon GO was released, largely because of the game. That study suggests that mobile apps are playing a much bigger role in the increase in traffic accidents than was previously assumed.

The researchers, from Purdue University in Indiana, wanted to find out if there was any statistical evidence of an increase in traffic accidents due to drivers playing the Pokémon GO game on their smartphones. They looked at 12,000 crash reports from Tippecanoe County, Indiana and compared where crashes happened to where so-called Poké Stops were located in the county. Poké Stops are real-life places that people can visit in order to quickly reload important supplies in the game.

The researchers found a very significant 26.5 percent increase in accidents that were within 100 meters of a Poké Stop. Using that data, they estimated that across the United States as many as 150,000 accidents may have been linked to Pokémon GO within 148 days of the app's release. Those accidents are estimated to have caused more than 250 deaths, 29,000 injuries, and up to $7.3 billion in damage.

The study is available to read online.

Are apps behind recent traffic deaths?

The findings in the Purdue study are no doubt shocking, but they may help explain why traffic fatalities have been increasing so dramatically in the last few years. As the New Scientist points out, prior to 2011, nationwide traffic fatalities had been on a consistent downward trend for more than two decades. Since 2011, they have risen dramatically.

While mobile phones are believed to have played a significant role in that increase, it's important to note that mobile phones were already in widespread use prior to 2011. What has changed since around that time is the use of mobile apps. Whereas in 2008 there were only 800 apps available through Apple's App Store, by 2011 there were close to 500,000 apps available.

Getting help after an accident

A motor vehicle accident can be a devastating experience and, when caused by distracted driving, it is also a needless and entirely preventable one . Those who have been hurt by a driver who may have been distracted should reach out to a personal injury attorney as soon as possible. An experienced attorney can help accident victims in their pursuit of justice, including by assisting them with filing any claims for compensation that they may be eligible for.