Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Road Rumor Alert – Pokémon Go causes fatal Tennessee crash?


If you’re a trucker with a Facebook account, chances are you’ve seen or at least heard about a post last
week about a wrong-way driver who struck and killed a tanker hauler on Interstate 40 near Knoxville on July 20.

The post, purportedly from the driver’s grieving daughter, claims the errant four-wheeler was distracted by Pokémon Go and didn’t realize he was going the wrong way until it was too late for both him and the truck driver, Carroll Trent. Both men died in the crash.

We almost got caught up in the headline rush-to-judgment ourselves last week, when our social media maven Kerry Evans-Spillman was tagged in the post. Trouble was, we couldn’t verify that Pokémon Go was the cause of the crash anywhere besides the Facebook post. In fact, when we started scanning the local headlines looking for boots-on-the-ground reports, like this one from the local CBS affiliate in Knoxville, they said just the opposite. The local newspaper reports also say police aren’t sure what caused the crash, but they’ve ruled the game out as a cause.

According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, the wrong-way crash is the fifth such to have happened on that four-mile stretch of I-40 near downtown since March 2013. The paper notes that the most recent collision “shares several similarities to a rash of four crashes in 2013 – all of which were caused by men in their 20s who were killed when they drove into oncoming interstate traffic. Likewise, each crash was reported between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m.”

The report also explicitly states that “the density of interchanges” on that stretch is another possible factor, offering more opportunities for an impaired or even a confused driver to head the wrong way onto the freeway. 

Now it’s true that one website, which aggregates trucking news, got caught up with the story and put out a sensational headline, but even they have added an update at the end of the story (apparently they didn’t think it was necessary to update the headline though …) The myth has gotten so big, even the fine folks at Snopes.com have weighed in with an entry to debunk the app’s connection to a crash.

If you’re not already familiar with the global mobile gaming phenomenon, Pokémon Go is an interactive game where users access their phone’s camera and GPS to catch digital characters that are “hidden” literally everywhere. It’s basically geo-caching, only the cache isn’t a physical box you can open, but a digital character that you add to your collection. Once you have captured a Pokémon, you can train it to battle other users’ characters.

It’s true that there have been several instances of strange things happening to users, including finding dead bodies, having their homes robbed while they were out playing, or injuries to the players themselves. But this isn’t the first time the app has been erroneously cited as the cause of a highway crash either.

You can bet it won’t be the last time the game makes fine grist for the Rumor Mill.