Don’t “Go” distracted

Netcare urges fans of popular Pokemon geocaching game to play it safe

With growing numbers of road accidents and pedestrian injuries internationally being attributed to distraction by the popular “Pokemon Go” game, Netcare is urging South African fans of the game to play it safe.

“Even though the game has only just launched officially in South Africa, many South Africans are already playing it and we fear that some aredoing so irresponsibly, putting both motorists and pedestrians at risk,” says Netcare’s general manager: emergency, trauma, transplant and corporate social investment, Mande Toubkin.

Pokemon Go is a mobile geocaching game that was released overseas in the beginning of July. “The game makes use of a player’s physical location and provides hints to the location of ‘caches’, or collectable animated characters, to encourage exploring the surrounding environment,” she adds.

The game employs augmented reality technology and a hide-and-seek aspect of play, which creates a particularly immersive experience as it combines elements of the game with one’s real-life surroundings. “This absorbing technology may be part of its appeal, but it could have safety implications if it is not played with due care for the dangers that exist in the real world environment,” Toukin notes.

“Numerous studies have shown that people simply cannot effectively multitask while engaging in activities such as driving, because it requires so much brain power and attention. Even a hands-free phone call is cognitively distracting and can impair driving.

“According to one US study, a driver’s eyes are taken off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds each time they even glance at their phone, which may translate to travelling the length of a rugby field. Playing an interactive game such as Pokemon Go while driving are likely to greatly increase the time a driver’s eyes are taken off the road and put real people’s lives in danger.”

“Whatever the cause of the distraction, which may include using a mobile phone or other technologies while on the road, a distracted driver is a danger to themselves and others. It is not possible to establish the percentageof motor vehicle accidents in South Africa thatarerelated to distracted driving. Most authorities would agree, however, that it is a growing cause of road accidents in this country,” Toubkin observes.

“With the sheer volume of motor vehicle accidents on South African roads each year, any potential cause of car crashes is a serious source of concern. We certainly have many patients who are admitted to Netcare’s emergency departments for treatment reporting that their vehicle accidents were related to one or other form of diversion while they were at the wheel.”

“It stands to reason that playing an engaging game while driving will likely carry similar, if not worse, risks than other distractions while driving,” adds Toubkin.

The dangers of distraction donot only apply to drivers, but also to pedestrians. “Pedestrians concentrating on this popular game are also putting themselves at riskas they may be so immersed in the game that they can unwittingly become careless of physical danger, particularly in busy areas.

“Crossing streets and walking on roadsides always requires alertness, as traffic poses a serious danger to pedestrians. Staying safe on the roads requires the utmost focus from both pedestrians and drivers,” Toubkin elaborates.

“In addition, it is important to stay alert in areas and environments where you would normally be cautious, no matter how engaging the game is. Several accidents have already been reported overseas due to people’s lack of concentration on their surroundings, which leaves them vulnerable to common hazards,” cautions Toubkin.

“We want to remind fans of the franchise to be cautious when playing the new game and to only do so in appropriate environments. We think it is a great motivator for health and fitness if more people are encouraged to take long walks, but not if it makes people vulnerable as a result.

“Visiting your local parkor other popular community locations during the day, away from traffic hazards and in the company of friends or family, is a great way to unwind and get a bit of exercise. We would recommend, however, that where groups of people play these games together, they take turns to keep an eye out for any possible sources of danger while the others focus on the game,” Toubkin suggests.

“Remember that games like Pokemon Go typically have vibrate-alert options built-in for the ‘caches’, which can make it a great way to take a walk with a loved one, but please put your phone in your pocket, and stay aware of your surroundings. When you receive an alert, you can find a safe spot where you can stop and safely enjoy the game,” she recommends.

“It is certainly encouraging that technology can inspire more people, youngsters in particular, to enjoy more outdoor exercise but we ask that they do so in a safe and responsible manner,” concludes Toubkin.