It is an amazing and sobering phenomenon happening now with so many using social media to get their moments of entertainment and information. Even in the small town I live in it is impossible to drive from my home into town which is only six miles away and not see a cell phone to someone’s ear or two hands above the steering wheel of an oncoming car cradling a phone. Eyes and attention is certainly not on me as an oncoming driver but on whatever happens to be on the game screen of the phone.
Comparing texting/gaming against drunk driving statistics, it is interesting to see the trend of drunk driving fatalities decreasing–but discouraging to see the alarming rise in fatalities attributable to texting while driving.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported in 2002 there were 12,405 drunk driving fatalities, and that number had dropped to 9,296 in 2011–a 25% decrease. Distracted driving resulted in approximately 2,600 deaths in 2002 while increasing to 3,331 in 2011. That number translates into approximately 1.6 million accidents every year–about 25% of all driving accidents. With the introduction of self-driving cars there are even more possible distracted driving risks for drivers who put too much stock in the vehicle’s ability to navigate. The recent pedestrian death, caused by an Uber driver who was apparently streaming “The Voice” on her phone while driving the car, is a prime example. We will likely see a rise in autonomous car accidents with injuries.
It just so happens two Purdue economists, Mara Faccio and John J. McConnell, studying the effects of texting while driving, discovered a spike in traffic accidents in one Indiana county in the months following the release of Pok`emon Go. They reviewed nearly 12,000 detailed police reports for Tippecanoe County, Indiana, and found a disproportionate increase in vehicle crashes, injuries, and fatalities near Poke`Stops- real-world locations where players can collect Pok`e Balls and other in-game items.
They discovered in the first 148 days of its release, Pok`emon was responsible for 134 accidents with an estimated $498,567 in vehicular damages, 31 injuries and two deaths. They said extrapolating these results across the nation would be speculative, more than 145,000 accidents, more than 29,000 injuries and an estimated 256 additional deaths could be due to playing the game while driving. The implied nationwide economic cost of these accidents range from $2 billion to $7.3 billion. (Study: ‘Pok`emon Go’ led to increase in traffic accidents. Rolling Stone, Stefanie Fogel 12/19/2017.)
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) commissioned a study in 2017 published in the Journal of the American Medical Association which used keywords like “Pok`emon” and “driving” to mine data regarding the correlation, discovered these figures from July 10, 2016, to July 19, 2017. Out of nearly 3,500,000 tweets, they sent a random sample of 4,000 to investigators to determine whether a driver, passenger, or pedestrian was playing Pok`emon Go. They found that 33 percent of tweets indicated someone was distracted by the game. That’s over 113,000 incidents in just 10 days. (ibid)
Much to the Pok`emon developer Niantic’s credit, they have done a good job at self- regulating. They put on a feature last year that prompted players to indicate if they were a driver or passenger whenever the game detected they were in a moving vehicle. This had some deterrent effect but not enough, so Niantic found a solution which prevents Pok`emon from appearing in an area if it detects the player in in a car going more than 30 mph.
Eleven states are being proactive with this issue by passing legislation prohibiting all drivers from using had held cell phones, and 41 states prohibit all drivers from text messaging. Last year, California’s Governor Jerry Brown signed a new law making it illegal to do just about anything on a phone while driving, including playing games. New Jersey, is the state perhaps at the forefront of texting-while-driving regulations–it is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and fines up to $150,000 for anyone who causes an injury.
It seems innocent enough to be using the phone; but when one realizes the average texter takes their eyes off the road for 23 seconds to browse, dial, and send a message, not taking into account the time needed to find the phone, the scene in front of you has changed by several football fields in length. No wonder your chances of having or causing a crash increases by 23%. Some have suggested texting while driving is like drinking 4 beers and getting behind the wheel. (Texting While Driving Vs. Drunk Driving: Which Is More Dangerous? Jacob Masters. Brain Injury Society. October 27, 2013)
I am sure insurance companies are taking a long hard look at what they can and should do in regards to these social activities. Should they just accept that people are going to continue to use these devices just as they have accepted people drinking and driving–only having a consequence to the driver if they do get involved in an accident? Or, do they by contract language put people on notice that if an accident does occur while texting or playing games their insurance is null and void. They do have some precedents to do so, i.e. if you commit a fraudulent or criminal act while using your vehicle, insurance is null and void.
Both drunk driving and driving while using a cell phone are conscious choices, so it leaves one wondering why one would want to be a party to the consequences of those choices. Why penalize the good behavior of some by paying for the bad choice of others? I am of the opinion if someone wants to drink and drive or text or play games, the compromise would be to have them acknowledge they are going to be involved in those activities at underwriting time and then have the company surcharge for anticipated future events. Since driving is a privilege and not a God given right, one should shoulder his or her social responsibility to qualify for that privilege. If they are not willing to do so, the company has no responsibility to do it for them.
In the meantime when I observe a game playing cell phone using driver coming at me, I look for an escape route just in case.