There are still a handful of years between this world and full autonomy in cars, meaning we have some time before we’re all sock monkeys being chauffeured by robot vehicles. But there’s a more immediate, widespread issue threatening to take the fun—and the safety—out of our roads: Pokémon Go.
For those unfamiliar with the game, it’s a mobile app that puts players into a world of Pokémon. Players can catch the creatures, help them evolve and take them to battle, all while leveling up themselves. The game launched over the week, and despite quite a few problems, it seems like everyone is playing.
That isn’t making for the best of driving conditions.
Sure, laugh all you want. This game couldn’t possibly have such an influence on how people drive—after all, they should know not to play while driving. But if you haven’t experienced this stuff for yourself, you simply can’t understand.
“Why did that truck stop in front of us?” I asked my boyfriend, mentally playing reels from murder films on our late-night walk.
The chance that the truck stopped to drag us to our doom was a small one, but I’d left my pepper spray at home and I wasn’t about to take any chances. We veered as closely to the curb as possible, peeking into the truck’s window as we did. It wasn’t long before we realized that rather than getting their hatchets, the occupants were collecting items at a PokéStop—while blocking the road.
The reason we went that way was because my boyfriend wanted to go for a walk to catch some Pokémon himself, and we’d paused at the same PokéStop. (I was always more of a Yu-Gi-Oh! person, so this stuff does not appeal to me. I’m big on walks, though.)
We were chasing Pokémon the genuine way, as the game is known for sending people out on walking adventures to find different creatures. But our lazy, clever society found a way around that soon after the game launched—driving around at 10 mph or under, subsequently stopping every few yards to catch ‘em.
It’s a more widespread trend than just those folks, and the Washington State Department of Transportation even sent out a tweet warning drivers not to catch Pokémon while driving. But people do anyway, and their passengers do as well—after seeing the murder truck on our walk, my boyfriend asked me to take him on a drive so that he could catch more. It’s the easy way out, and human nature says to take it.
The problem is that certain features of the game require walking, and the virtual Pokémon are confined to small areas that a car can quickly pass through. Thus, the car has to move at a painfully slow crawl in order for gameplay to work as it should.
“Slow down, we’re in a neighborhood and there’s no one around,” my boyfriend said. “Under 10 mph, if you can.”
I felt my brain going numb at this speed.
“STOP! It’s a Rattata! STOP!”
I put on my emergency flashers and pulled over. This was going to be a long drive—in terms of time, not length. There were even a couple of times when I had to put the car in reverse because we drove past some run-of-the-mill Pokémon.
Now, multiply that anecdote by every other genius who had the idea to get off of their feet to catch Pokémon. That makes for a lot of slow cars crawling through neighborhoods—and hopefully just neighborhoods—and a lot of confusion among drivers.
And with all of the Pokémon players creeping down the road and stopping every few feet, you literally will catch ‘em all—you just won’t be catching the same thing that they are.
Not only can Pokémon catching become a dangerous practice when taken onto the road, it also sucks all of the fun from the driver. Odds are that as soon as you pull up to the best turn in town, there will be a Pokémon at the corner to stop your excited acceleration before it even begins. And once one of the cars taking that corner slows down, all of the other poor saps stuck behind it in line will have to do the exact same thing.
Of course, it’s possible to turn someone down when he or she asks you to go out on a Pokémon run, but making sacrifices for the ones you love is just part of the job. If no one is willing to make the sacrifice, plenty of players will go out on their own. Just ask these people:
The above posts, none of which have been individually verified, serve as a small illustration of this Pokémon Go driving culture.
Pokémon Go is upon us, and little, virtual creatures are crawling the streets as you read this. Legislation hasn’t caught up with the phenomenon of passengers influencing how a car drives, just like it hasn’t caught up with autonomous cars taking over. So, for now, we’re on our own. Some Pokémon Go cars have at least found a way to communicate with others, as you can see from the photo above. At least we have that going for us.
But still, keep your eyes out and keep your phones away. If you want to take that turn at higher speeds than advised, there’s likely a Pokémon waiting just around the corner.
And, unfortunately for those of us who want to drive, it doesn’t look like they’re going extinct anytime soon.