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Car Insurance

Pokémon Stop then Go: The Effects on Car Insurance

While you’re out there catching Pokémon you may end up catching a few traffic violation tickets as well. How the popular game is impacting the auto insurance industry.

Since the mobile augmented reality (AR) game debuted in early July for both Android and iOS devices, Pokémon Go has been turning heads--sometimes away from the road in front of them. What was initially a wave of positive press for the most active app in the U.S. has quickly turned controversial in the wake of car accident reports among its users.

The game, created in collaboration with The Pokémon Company, Niantic, Inc., and Nintendo Co., Ltd., encourages players to look for the beloved “pocket monsters” in the real world though their smartphones. Players in the United States, Australia, and Europe can create an avatar to catch, battle, and trade in their own communities. Even though they have an avatar, gamers must physically walk in the real world in order to see the creatures with the help of their phone’s camera and GPS location tracking capabilities. The goal is to capture and evolve all 151 Pokémon characters strategically placed throughout the game.

The Idea of a Poketopia

Pokémon Go heavily emphasizes the idea of community surrounding the game. Besides the optional in-app purchases the game is completely free to play, making it accessible to anyone with a smartphone. On top of this, the incentive to go outside in order to “catch ‘em all” is marketed as a means to discover new locations and people in your neighborhood also involved in the game. This sense of community has been largely questioned by those who view Pokemon Go players as public nuisances with total lack of self awareness. Is the game actually promoting a community if members walk around without observing their surroundings and potentially injure others as a result?

It seems that this spellbinding game is affecting more than a player’s ability to navigate sidewalks. Despite the app’s introductory warning for players to, “be alert at all times,” news outlets have been reporting multiple car accidents in relation to the popular game. Players have been using the app in moving vehicles --- sometimes from the driver’s seat -- in an attempt to cover more ground and catch more Pokemon.

These Instances of distracted driving have accumulated quickly for an app that launched less than a month ago. The steady increase of occurrences has caused many state and local traffic and law enforcement agencies to create public safety announcements, like the two shown below from the Tennessee Highway Safety Office.


Whether the announcements are working or not, news coverage of accidents keep rolling in. Most recently a driver in Baltimore crashed into a parked police car while playing Pokemon Go. Luckily, no one was harmed. The driver took full responsibility and blamed his distracted driving on the game. Pokemon Go behind the wheel calls into question the implications, whether positive or negative, future AR technology could have on automotive transportation.

How Pokemon Go Could Affect the Future of Car Insurance

While distracted driving with a phone is nothing new, Pokemon Go may prove to be more dangerous than traditional text messaging. According to The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, texting while driving takes our eyes off the road for an average of 5 seconds. In this time while traveling at 55 mph, we cover the distance of a football field. If it takes us 5 seconds to type and send a text, how long does it take for us to throw pokeballs from our screens until we successfully capture and check the stats of a Pokemon?

While some drivers claim they can text properly without looking at their phones, there’s no way a Pokemon Go player can claim they don’t have to look down to find, target, and catch one of these virtual creatures. This task requires one’s undivided attention meaning that eyes are certainly off the road for more than 5 seconds and longer if you have terrible hand-eye coordination, like myself.

How can we tell who is playing Pokemon Go while driving? Whom should we look out for while on the road? The answer is a lot more complicated than just “teens.” With an estimated 15 million players in the United states alone, data from Startapp and Vox shows that more than 40% of pokeplayers are ages 25 or older. This percentage is pretty close to the 58% of players who fall under what many believe to be the app’s target demographic, those aged 18 to 24.

pokemon age chart

The popularity of Pokemon Go among such a wide age range makes it nearly impossible to place blame for the recent trend of accidents on one particular group alone. In the auto insurance industry, drivers aged 18 to 24 are automatically labelled as high risk due to their common lack of experience, poor decision making, and the tendency to drive while distracted. But with evidence that adults are just as likely to be distracted by the game should older aged demographics also be proactively charged by insurance companies? How should insurance companies alter rates free from bias if new data shows any age group could be catching while driving? Luckily, Pokemon Go happens to be a possible solution for the very problems it’s caused.

As technology continually integrates with businesses once thought to be outside the “tech sector,” insurance companies are interested in using tracking devices, like fitness wearables, to gather more accurate customer data for things like claims, coverage selection, and risk profiles.

Unlike current fitness trackers, Pokemon Go can capture geographical information of users to the foot. Surprisingly users have been more than willing to allow the tracking and data collection for the sake of the game. The amount and accuracy of the game’s gathered information has created a whole new hype surrounding the possibilities AR could bring to the industry.

The speculations are wide ranging and unlimited. AR apps could offer on-scene assistance in the collection of evidence and photos for a claim. In addition, vehicles could use AR to scan potential accident hazards. There’s also the possibility of accessing the risk level factor of a driver based on their average speed or proximity to other cars. No longer would companies need to collect general stats about entire age groups to build biased coverage plans and prices. With the implementation of AR, auto insurance could be personalized for each driver on the road. But even if the technology is available, will customers allow companies to monitor them so closely?

The industry can’t predict how consumers would react to this technology in their vehicles, but Pokemon Go can stand as a precedent. Despite the initial fear players had towards Nintendo’s data cache, the fun of the game eventually outweighed the discomfort of handing over personal data. The car insurance industry would be turned on its head if companies were to offer attractive benefits, like discounts, that would outweigh the paranoia of GPS tracking. Providers could use the technology not only to strike a wealth of consumer data, but also could create apps to remotely assist their customers in a way that would encourage more agent-customer communication.

So remember while you’re out looking for Pokemon, your agent could be looking for ways to build you an entirely new insurance policy and driving record.