Thursday, August 25, 2016

Pokémon Go walk in front of a moving train

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Pokémon Go walk in front of a moving train

It’s unsettling, and very weird, I tell you. People—children, adults, teenagers—walking around, even driving, oblivious to their surroundings, fixated on their smartphones, looking for goofy little virtual characters called Pokémons (is that short for “poke me in the eye”?).

This new form of Hanke Panky (I’ll explain this in a moment) is called “Pokémon Go.” It’s known as an “augmented reality app.” The object is to locate and capture these creepy little creatures and earn worthless points (worthless because they can’t be converted into something useful, like airline miles or Burger King gift certificates). When a Pokémon is close enough to be captured, a digital creature pops up on the screen, juxtaposed against a live view of the user’s surroundings.

So now we have a means to go hunting for silly cartoon figures that don’t really exist. Thanks, but I’d rather get my jollies driving my ’69 Firebird 400 ragtop or running my N scale model railway.

Call me old-school, but it’s bad enough that people don’t talk to each other any more, resorting instead to texting and emailing. I do that myself sometimes, but frankly, I’d rather talk to you. So please, answer your damn cellphone when I call! I know of an elderly man who wrecked his classic car—a 1963 Corvette split-window coupe—because he was texting while driving, and rear-ended the car in front of him.

I digress.

Pokémon Go comes from Niantic Labs Inc., a Japanese firm whose CEO is John Hanke (thus, “Hanke Panky”). In Japan, a driver distracted by Pokémon Go killed one woman and seriously injured another, marking the first fatal accident involving the game in that country. Local police said the driver, a 39-year-old farmer, didn’t see the two women crossing the street because he was distracted by the game, and struck them both with his small truck. One of the victims, in her early 70s, died at the scene from a broken neck, while the other suffered a broken hip. Japan’s National Police Agency says that the accident was the 79th Pokémon Go-related accident in the country since the game’s Japanese release in July. More than 1,000 people have been handed citations for playing the game in dangerous ways, The Wall Street Journal reported, with Japanese police cracking down on people caught catching Pokémon while driving or biking.

The Japanese government has gone as far as to issue warnings, publishing a one-page pamphlet advising oblivious Pokémon Go users not to get heatstroke, to avoid dangerous places, and to take a spare phone charger on their travels. Japanese railway stations, tourist sites and religious locations have also banned the app’s usage, while signs have appeared in several cities warning against the practice of “aruki-smaho,” translated as “walking while staring intently at your phone.”

It’s only a matter of time before we learn of an “aruki smaho idō ressha no pathg e”— “walking while staring intently at your phone into the path of a moving train.”

Last week, the Federal Railroad Administration and the Association of American Railroads sent a joint letter to John Hanke recommending that Niantic Labs consider ways to promote safety, particularly by avoiding the placement of Pokémon and virtual points of interest in the game on or near railroad tracks. AAR and FRA are are concerned about reports that Pokémon characters, “battle gyms,” “Pokéstops” and other virtual objects are being placed near railroad tracks, stations and yards.

“While the game has brought people together and inspired a sense of exploration (huh?), elements of play are putting users in situations where their safety is at risk,” the letter said. “This not only puts them in danger of being hit by a train, it also endangers the safety of passengers and crew members aboard trains, workers along the track and members of the public who live or work in the nearby area. We are seriously concerned that the focus demanded of Pokémon Go users in play of the game distracts them from their surroundings when near railroad tracks. Safety is our shared concern and we at FRA and AAR are prepared to partner on ensuring the safety of Pokémon Go users and railroad passengers and personnel.”

FRA and AAR emphasized that nearly all rail-related fatalities are caused by trespassing or highway-rail crossing incidents.

Moral of the story: Look up from your phone, be aware of your surroundings—and make sure you do everything you can to continue living, safely, in the real world.











William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief

With Railway Age since 1992, William C. Vantuono has broadened and deepened the magazine's coverage of the technological revolution that is so swiftly changing the industry. He has also strengthened Railway Age’s leadership position in industry affairs with the conferences he conducts, among them Next-Generation Train Control, Light Rail, and Rail Insights. He is the author or co-author or editor of several books, among them All About Railroading; John Armstrong’s The Railroad: What It Is, What It Does; Railway Age’s Comprehensive Railroad Dictionary; and Planning, Engineering, and Operating Light Rail, With Applications in New Jersey.

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