Pokemon Go linked to distracted driving, SDSU study finds

A woman plays the Pokemon Go mobile game on her smart phone in a car in Berlin on July 13, 2016.
The Pokemon Go mobile gaming craze reached European fans with players in Germany the first to get their hands on the augmented reality sensation. / AFP / dpa / Sophia Kembowski / Germany OUT        (SOPHIA KEMBOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

A woman plays the Pokemon Go mobile game on her smart phone in a car in Berlin on July 13, 2016. The Pokemon Go mobile gaming craze reached European fans with players in Germany the first to get their hands on the augmented reality sensation. / AFP / dpa / Sophia Kembowski / Germany OUT (SOPHIA KEMBOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

SAN DIEGO — An analysis of more than 345,000 Twitter posts over 10 days in July found that 18 percent were from drivers distracted by the Pokemon GO game, according to a study released Friday by San Diego State University.

Researchers viewed tweets from July 10-19 that combined the word “Pokemon” with words like “driving,” “drive” or “car.” One-third came from Pokemon GO players either driving or riding in a vehicle, or from pedestrians distracted by the game.

The SDSU analysis found that 18 percent of the tweets indicated that the player was driving; 11 percent that a passenger was playing the game; and 4 percent that a pedestrian was playing it near traffic. By comparison, just 13 percent were public health messages discouraging driving while playing or playing the game near traffic.

“By relying on big media data, we can rapidly discover emerging public health issues by directly observing what the public is thinking and doing in their own words and in near real-time,” said John Ayers, an assistant research professor in the Graduate School of Public Health.

By analyzing Google News articles from the same period, the researchers identified 14 car crashes that were attributed to Pokemon GO. After the study was completed, the researchers discovered that at least two fatal traffic accidents had been attributed to playing the game.

“Considering that people had to tweet or be tweeted about to be captured in our study, we are likely underestimating distractions linked to Pokemon GO,” said Eric Leas, the study’s co-author.

“Yet, in just 10 days, our findings suggest there were more than 110,000 cases of potentially distracted drivers or pedestrians, and 14 accidents, giving a clear justification for a public health response,” said Leas,  a doctoral student in the SDSU/UC San Diego Public Health Joint Doctoral Program.

The researchers pointed out that vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among those between the ages of 12 and 24 — roughly the game’s target audience.

“Pokemon GO may be accelerating and amplifying these dangers, entirely outside of any public health checks,” said Linda Hill, a UCSD professor.

Ayers said the success of Pokemon GO likely means similar games will hit the market in the future and could present similar risks. Solutions suggested by the researchers include ensuring games can’t be played at driving speeds, or have limited playability near roadways.

Researchers from the University of Southern California, Johns Hopkins University and AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety assisted with the study.