Safety officials urge drivers, pedestrians to stop playing Pokemon GO

Pokemon GO is lots of fun for smartphone users, but accidents have occurred rather frequently lately due to its interactive gameplay that takes players outdoors.

Only a few months ago, the mere mention of names like "Mewtwo," "Pidgey," and "Charizard" produced quizzical looks and furrowed brows. Fast forward to today and those who haven't heard of these characters may be in the distinct minority.

Pokemon GO is the latest gaming sensation that's taken the country by storm. Though Pokemon has been around for awhile now, the mobile game is brand new. After downloading the app, players compete with their fellow smartphone owners in an effort to collect the most Pokemon, accomplished by hurling digital Poke Balls that appear on players' display screens, which are superimposed in various, real-life locations. In fact, if you've seen people walking on the street while staring at their smartphones – only looking straight ahead rather than down at their feet – it's a good bet they're immersed in the Pokemon World.

The Wall Street Journal published a tongue-in-cheek article designed to inform readers of whether they may be escaping from reality a bit too much, as by all accounts, the game is loads of fun.

At the same time, however, players' fixation on the interactive game has led to some very real consequences for people failing to pay attention to where they're going. All across the country, distracted players – both on foot and behind the wheel – have been involved in accidents. For instance, in upstate New York in mid-July, a 28-year-old man drove his car straight into a tree after his car fell off the road, multiple news outlets reported. Police officers on the scene said that the motorist confessed to being distracted by his smartphone at the time of the accident, looking for characters to collect in the town of Auburn. 

"Luckily the driver was not seriously injured," said Shawn Butler, Auburn Police Chief in a statement. "[However], this is an example of how easily accidents can occur when someone is engaged in the game and not paying attention."

Distracted player slams car into police cruiser

Only a few days later, something similar happened in Baltimore, only this time the Pokemon GO player crashed his vehicle into a parked police cruiser. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but it could have been a different story, noted Baltimore Police's T.J. Smith.

"It's a game, but it's not a game when you're behind the wheel," Smith explained, according to ABC News. "This could have easily, easily been a tragedy."

It's incidents like these that have prompted safety officials to issue warnings to smartphone users, reminding them that Pokemon GO may be fun and games until, that is, someone gets hurt. The Texas Department of Transportation did so through social media through a campaign called "Don't #PokemonGo and Drive," according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Similar efforts have been made in Washington state.

"If your weekend includes looking for #Eevee on #PokemonGO, please do so safely," the Washington State Department of Transportation announced in a Twitter post. "No Pokemoning from behind the wheel."

NSC warning gamers to play smart

The National Safety Council has called on players to use common sense and stay off their phones when they're in traveling situations.

"No race to 'capture' a cartoon monster is worth a life," NSC warned in a statement.

States all across the country are cracking down on distracted drivers as well as pedestrians. Since 2007, when the first texting while driving ban went into effect in Washington state, 45 other states have followed suit, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. People who text while walking are also being cautioned to avoid doing so, as serious injuries among pedestrians have climbed 15% since 2009. Lawmakers in New Jersey have introduced legislation that would fine pedestrians from texting while walking.

It may be called "Pokemon GO," but if you're driving or walking on or near the road, it's "Pokemon Stop."