Drivers playing ‘Pokemon Go’ catch trouble

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Drivers playing ‘Pokemon Go’ catch trouble

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Safety experts say texting while driving is six times more dangerous than driving under the influence, and playing “Pokemon Go” while driving is probably just as bad. CONTRIBUTED BY ANTONIO CALARCO

It was bound to happen, and it happened sooner rather than later.

A driver, distracted by a Squirtle or a Zubat, caught a tree, instead of a Pokemon.

That collision occurred last month in Auburn, N.Y., near Syracuse.

A few days later, a 28-year-old driver on a highway near Seattle told officials he was focused on the hunt for Pikachu when he ran into the rear end of a Chevrolet.

All were trying to simultaneously drive and play “Pokemon Go,” an “augmented reality” game that lets players find legendary pocket monsters in the real world and “catch” them on their smartphones.

The game is being praised as a good way to make video gamers go outside and walk around. (Others suggest the game might be a job creator.)

Players must cover ground on foot to find new Pokemon, to visit Pokestops and restock with Pokeballs, and to hatch “eggs.” The game recognizes a player’s physical location using mapping technology and GPS capability, and superimposes these game elements on local maps.

Unfortunately, some players are turning the game on while they’re behind the wheel, to increase the number of Pokestops they visit and the number of Pokemon they encounter.

“We have had several instances of people Driving While Pokemoning, DWP,” wrote Officer Pacer Cordry, with the Canton Police Department.

“DWP is not really a law, but distracted driving is and we take it very seriously,” he wrote. “We love to see all the “Pokemon Go” players out in the community having fun, but it is very important for them to remember to pay attention to their surroundings, whether they are driving or walking.”

Paying attention to your surroundings means not looking at Eevee and Rattata instead of the road, said Sgt. Aaron Belt, public information officer with the Dunwoody Police Department.

Belt’s department recently put out a public service announcement warning of the dangers of playing while driving. His department also advised gamers not to trespass. “Please make sure you respect the laws of the state of Georgia, as well as the privacy of the communities you are exploring.”

Belt said the law against texting while driving applies to playing video games, because both would constitute distracted driving. “They are about the same,” he said. “Either way, you’re distracted by your cellphone. It doesn’t matter whether you’re texting or playing ‘Pokemon Go.’ ”

Despite the ongoing campaign against texting from behind the wheel, the practice is still widespread, and it seems “Pokemon Go” will be equally difficult to eradicate. “Everybody is so attached to their phones these days it’s hard to put it down,” said Belt, adding that his officers haven’t written any “Pokemon Go” citations yet.

(Some kids on DoSomething.org came up with a way to discourage texting behind the wheel: thumb socks. Perhaps hardened “Pokemon Go” players could try that solution.)

According to Comicbook.com, recent changes to the game made it harder to play while driving. The game has a “refresh rate” — the rate at which it periodically searches for new Pokemon — and that rate dropped from one scan per second to one scan every 10 seconds. That means a player in a car (or a bus) traveling faster than 12 mph would leave Pokemon behind before he could grab them.

Shiera D. Campbell, spokeswoman for DeKalb County Police, hopes that other factors besides game design will discourage “Pokemon Go” players from getting behind the wheel.

“Common sense,” Campbell said. “Just don’t stare at your phone while you’re driving down the road. That would be our policy.”

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