Pokemon Go a No-Go Behind the Wheel, Insist Safety Advocates

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CARS.COM — The smartphone mobile-app-based-video-game phenomenon Pokemon Go certainly gets credit for getting people who otherwise might be holed up in their apartments, staring at a screen, out into the real world ... staring at a screen. Unfortunately, it's likely only a matter of time before we start hearing reports of people trying to hit the PokeGym while driving — and instead hitting something else.

Related: 'Wreck-less Checklist' Targets Distracted Driving

The Washington State Department of Transportation on Friday tweeted, "If your weekend includes looking for #Eevee on #PokemonGO, please do so safely. No Pokemoning from behind the wheel." Meanwhile, the Tennessee Highway Safety Office on its Facebook page stated, "With the recent release of Niantic's and Nintendo's Pokemon Go virtual gaming application, the Tennessee Highway Safety Office urges drivers NOT to engage in Pokemon catching behind the steering wheel. Find other ways to play safely. Eyes on the road, Pokemon Masters!"

These warnings try to get through to the gaming audience with light humor, but the dangers of distracted driving are a decidedly heavy, unfunny topic. The prospect of drivers playing Pokemon Go while behind the wheel adds yet another type of distracted driving to the pile in our increasingly gadget-crazy world.

Thousands of driving fatalities and hundreds of thousands of injuries are attributed to distracted driving annually. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 10 percent of all drivers age 15 to 19 involved in fatal crashes in 2014 were distracted at the time, while drivers in their 20s represent 27 percent of distracted drivers and 38 percent of distracted drivers using smartphones at the time of a fatal crash.

For those who don't fully realize the danger of distracted driving, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute puts it into real-world perspective.

"Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting," the U.S. DOT stated, citing VTTI research. "When traveling at 55 mph, that's enough time to cover the length of a football field blindfolded."

Until fully autonomous cars become a reality or people become reliably cautious drivers — whichever comes first — it seems that opportunity knocks like a car running on too low an octane gas. A Craigslist ad for a ride-sharing service out of Portland, Ore., offers a Pokemon Go package for $30 a person, including 2 hours of driving "to all the PokeStops and Gym Trainers" in the Portland metro area as well as snacks and beverages.

(And when you're done, maybe you can have the driver drop you off at the library ... or a museum ... perhaps the symphony?)

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Senior Editor Matt Schmitz is a veteran Chicago journalist indulging his curiosity for all things auto while helping to inform car shoppers.  Email Matt

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