Chances are you or someone you love is currently hiding behind a smartphone screen at the moment while running around and trying to catch a Pikachu, Eevee or, yes, another Pidgey. Since the birth of Pokemon Go on July 6 and its Canadian release 11 days later, a significant portion of smartphone users have been caught up in the cultural phenomenon.
Personally, I'm on level 10. While I'm behind many others, I choose to play with safety in mind. Running around to catch those cute little digital monsters can bring about a rush, but if you're not careful, it can also pose a threat to both pedestrians and motorists alike. What's more, it could lead to a bump in your auto insurance rate.
A major handheld distraction
Only moments after it was announced that Pokemon Go was released in Canada, huge numbers of iPhone and Android smartphone users flocked to download it through their app stores -- so much so that the game's servers crashed within an hour. But that's not the only type of "crashing" that could come as a result of playing the game. All around the world, there have been reports of injuries, collisions, near-misses and distracted behaviours -- all due to Pikachu and friends.
Because the game requires users to constantly stare at their smartphones and walk around at the same time -- mostly in outdoor locations -- it ultimately proves to be a distraction that can prevent the player from watching where they are going. Besides several trespassing incidents where players have entered private property or areas off limits to the public, there have also been a number of Pokemon Go-related traffic incidents. In Pennsylvania, a 15-year-old girl was hit by a car as she played the game while crossing a busy street. In Seattle, a 28-year-old man admitted to police that he rear-ended another car because he was distracted by the game while in the driver's seat.
Here in Canada, a driver in Québec City reversed into a police cruiser while playing the game. And in Innisfil, just south of Barrie, Ont., a woman chasing those "pocket monsters" in a parking lot in the middle of the night was nearly hit by a motorist who was engaging in the same behaviour. In this case, police said the driver was not charged because no collision occurred. But a near miss is still a scary sign of motorists not paying full attention to what's in front of them, outside their dashboard window.
Pokémon Go can lead to a distracted driving ticket
While there's no law that states "Don't Pokémon and Drive," there are laws around distracted driving, which is now the leading cause of accidents, and car-related injuries and fatalities in Canada. Legal penalties have increased over the past few years to drive the message home to Canadians in every province, with Ontario and Nova Scotia leading the way.
So if police notice that you're throwing your Poké Balls at a Drowzee instead of stopping at a red light, you will most definitely be pulled over and given a distracted driving ticket. But you don't even have to be the one playing to face legal consequences. If you're engaged with or watching a passenger who is playing, you are putting other drivers and pedestrians at risk and can still be given a ticket.
If an officer notices you are weaving in and out of your lane or you hit another vehicle while staring at your cell phone, you can face careless driving charges. Should you be convicted, this will likely mean you'll be considered a high-risk driver. As a result, police forces are urging players to use common sense.
What happens to my auto insurance premiums?
If you receive one or more tickets for prohibited use of a hand-held device, you could see up to an 18 per cent increase -- more than $230 -- on the average lowest premium, or double that if you're playing Pokémon Go while speeding or making an improper lane change. In the case of a careless driving charge, this could be reflected in your premiums for at least three years if not longer.
Play it safe!
Sure, it's OK to engage in a little fun and chase around these imaginary characters, but safety always comes first. And when your attention is completely on your virtual surroundings rather than what's really in front of you, you can easily end up in a dangerous situation. The best thing to do is keep your smartphone out of reach when behind the wheel, save your Poké Balls for open areas away from traffic and always be aware of your surroundings when you're on foot trying to capture a rare Squirtle (let's be honest -- it's not worth chasing Weedles and Rattatas).
Whether playing Pokemon Go or answering a phone call, you should never drive, walk or ride distracted. Playing it safe ensures that not only you, but everyone else around you remains safe as well.
Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook
MORE ON HUFFPOST: