How a single app may have led to 150,000 additional car crashes

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A recent study has shown some much needed light on just how distracting smartphone apps can be for drivers. Researchers at Purdue University in Indiana looked at whether there was a connection between the popular Pokemon Go app and motor vehicle accidents in a single county in Indiana. As Ars Technica reports, the researchers found strong evidence to suggest that there was such a connection and, extrapolating that data and applying it to the rest of the country, they estimated that Pokemon Go may have been responsible for up to 150,000 additional accidents.

PokeStops have more crashes

The researchers analyzed 12,000 accident reports from Tippecanoe County, Indiana during the first few months after Pokemon Go was released in July 2016. Using that information, they then cross-referenced that data with where PokeStops were located in Tippecanoe County. PokeStops are locations where players can quickly pick up supplies.

Somewhat shockingly, the researchers found that accidents were 26.5 percent higher at intersections that were located within 100 meters of a PokeStop. That meant that in the 148 days after the app was released, Tippecanoe County saw 134 additional accidents caused by Pokemon Go, along with 31 additional injuries and two additional deaths.

Extrapolating that data to the rest of the country, the researchers speculate that up to 150,000 additional accidents across the country were due to Pokemon Go, which caused 256 deaths and economic damage of between $2 billion and $7.3 billion.

Apps and distracted driving

While Pokemon Go has declined considerably in popularity since it was first released, the study is an important reminder of just how distracting apps can be for drivers. As the New Scientist reports, until 2011 there had been a 25-year decline in car crashes across the United States. While mobile phones and texting and driving are widely blamed for the increase in crashes since that time, mobile phones were widely available before 2011. However, apps are much more widely available, with downloads on Apple's App Store growing from 10 million in 2008 to 18 billion in 2011.