Indiana Scholars: Drivers Distracted by Game Caused Thousands of Injuries, Hundreds of Deaths

When Pokemon GO was first released in early July 2016, it quickly became a smash hit, with millions scrambling to “catch” characters in the interactive game that required users to travel around their neighborhoods and communities. Apparently, some didn’t let the fact that they were behind the wheel stop them. Researchers at Indiana’s Purdue University have released a 49-page study that estimates this game alone caused 145,000 car accidents, 29,000 injuries and 250 deaths just in the first five months after it was released. 

But while the augmented reality Pokemon Go craze has since died down significantly, what hasn’t is the fact that smartphones and apps continue to divide drivers’ attention in a way that endangers all of us on the roads. Our Indiana car accident attorneys know that this raises some interesting legal questions about what duty of care – if any – technology companies have to motorists.

Case law on the matter has not been hopeful for plaintiffs. In August, a superior court judge in California dismissed a lawsuit filed by the parents of a young man killed when he was struck by a driver who was texting. The distracted driver was charged with a misdemeanor, but the parents took legal action against the technology giant, alleging Apple failed to implement a lockout system on the iPhone. In the order for dismissal, the judge cited another lawsuit in that state with a similar fact pattern, wherein the appellate court ruled it would be “unreasonable” to assume the tech firm was responsible for the ultimate harm. 

It’s important to point out those rulings don’t have any direct impact here in Indiana, though courts do look to other jurisdictions that have weighed similar matters when considering issues of first impression, so it’s plausible those decisions could become relevant.

While there is likely to be continued legal exploration on this front, the more plausible avenue for success in these cases, at least for now, is to pursue action against the distracted driver. Driving while distracted by a smartphone is evidence of failure to abide the duty to use reasonable care that all motorists have behind the wheel. It’s also against the law in Indiana, which prohibits typing, transmitting or reading email or text messages on a communication device while driving. Violators could be slapped with a $500 fine.

Still, the Purdue study underscores the fact that this isn’t an issue that’s likely to go away anytime soon. If it’s not Pokemon GO, it will be some other game or feature.

The authors of the study noted that the numbers they released are an extrapolation of detailed Indiana car accident reports gleaned over the course of five months in Tippecanoe County. There were 12,000 crash reports analyzed. Within those, crash rates were 27 percent higher at intersections that were located within 100 meters of a Pokestop, as compared to other intersections. The data indicated 2 people in the county died in the course of those five months as a result of crashes caused by drivers playing the game, and the economic losses just in that county alone for these collisions topped $5.2 million.

The Pokemon Go popularity received an awful lot of attention, and it does seem given the research findings some of that was deserved. However, the use of regular, every day text messages and email by drivers poses a much larger collective threat – one our Gary car accident attorneys hope motorists will begin to take more seriously.

Indiana Injury Attorney Burton A. Padove handles personal injury claims throughout northern Indiana, including Highland, Gary and Hammond. Call Toll Free 877-446-5294.

Additional Resources:

Death by Pokemon Go, November 2017, By Professors Mara Faccio and John J. McConnell of the Kranert School of Management, Purdue University

More Blog Entries:

Indiana Drunk Driving Accidents Targeted With New Breathalyzers, Nov. 15, 2017, Gary Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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