Analyzing detailed police accident reports for Tippecanoe County, Indiana, from March 2015 through November 2016, the research team discovered a disproportionate increase in vehicular crashes, injuries and even fatalities near PokéStops starting July 6, 2016, when the augmented reality game debuted. All the accident reports offered the time, date, location and value of damage, as well as information on injuries or deaths.

“Instead of measuring increasing business at restaurants, we looked at crashes that occurred in the vicinity of PokéStops and found that the number of the number of crashes in the proximity of PokéStops increased to 134 across the county over the 148 days following the introduction of the game,” Faccio says.

“This compares to a county-wide increase of 286 crashes during the same period, meaning the increase in crashes attributable to the game’s introduction accounted for 47 percent of the increase in the total number of county-wide crashes.”

In order to prove the accidents resulted from drivers playing the game, the study also compared PokéStops to Gyms. While it's possible to earn Poké Balls from a location while driving, taking part in a raid or gym battle while driving is nearly impossible. “With this in mind, we compared the change in the number of crashes near Gyms to the number of crashes near PokéStops and found a significantly greater increase in the latter,” Faccio says.

The researchers also noted the recording of 31 personal injuries attributable to the game. “Sadly, our study shows that the county would have experienced two fewer traffic fatalities had Pokémon Go not been introduced,” Faccio adds.

Faccio and McConnell estimate the total incremental county-wide cost of users playing Pokémon Go while driving ranged from $5.2 million to $25.5 million during the period they studied. Extrapolating those numbers on a national scale for the same time period, they estimate a total cost of $2 to $7.3 billion.

Some might be tempted to suggest a ban on the use of smartphones while driving, Faccio says, but cautions associated with such a ban are threefold. “First, in an effort at self-regulation, the game does caution users against playing it while driving.  Second, while policy recommendations should be based on a cost-benefit analysis, the paper focuses on one cost only. Third, prior studies suggest that bans on the use of mobile phones while driving appear to have limited or short lived effects.”

That didn’t stop media outlets from sharing their own conclusions about the paper, which received coverage in hundreds of newspapers and magazines worldwide, including Fortune and Rolling Stone. It also caught the attention of users, including nearly 3 million subscribers of the “The Game Theorists,” a popular YouTube channel that uses real-world research to discuss video game logic.

Published in February 2018, the video has so far earned 90 thousand likes and 3.6 thousand dislikes, mostly from fans who countered the study’s conclusions by noting the game’s health benefits to users who play the game while walking.

So, what’s the takeaway from the two papers?

“From a managerial perspective, Pokémon Go can help businesses develop appropriate policies to govern potential gaming partnerships by providing empirical insights on the economic implications of such associations,” Pamuru says.

From a safety perspective, Faccio says the message is old-fashioned common sense: “Don’t play and drive.”

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