Pokemon craze leads to danger on roads

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Pokemon craze leads to danger on roads

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Players of Pokemon Go, a location-based mobile game developed by American software development company Niantic, roam around Olympic Park in southern Seoul at night on Saturday to catch rare Pokemon known to appear at the site. [HONG SANG-JI]

A police officer of Gangbuk Police Precinct in northern Seoul requested a driver to pull over when he saw the car drift slowly from left to right, making erratic lane changes.

When the officer asked the driver to roll down the window, he expected to come face to face with a drunk driver. Instead, he came face to face with a 24-year-old who had been playing Pokemon Go on her phone.

“There was an event for the game at this time and I just couldn’t miss it,” the woman told Corporal Kim Tae-cheon. She was fined 60,000 won ($52) for using a cell phone while driving and violating the Road Traffic Act.

The location-based mobile game Pokemon Go is catching on in Korea after it officially launched here on Jan. 24, but many drivers are risking their lives and the lives of others by playing the game while driving. As of Tuesday, a total of 41 people were caught playing Pokemon Go while driving.

According to the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, it caught five drivers from Friday to Saturday playing Pokemon Go while driving. Four of them were in their 40s.

A 49-year-old surnamed Yoo and a 41-year-old surnamed Cho were caught playing in their cars while driving near the entrance to the Dongbu Urban Expressway in Seokgwan-dong, eastern Seoul.

A 49-year-old surnamed Lee was caught playing the game near the entrance to the Jamwon Interchange in southern Seoul, and a 40-year-old surnamed Kim was caught playing the game when a police officer pulled him over for tapping the screen of his phone many times while driving.

According to the Road Traffic Act, those caught using phones while driving are to be fined 70,000 won if in a van, 60,000 won if in a four-wheeled vehicle, 40,000 won if on a two-wheeled vehicle and 30,000 won if on a bicycle.

But authorities are ramping up measures to crack down on phone usage during driving, by additionally fining 30,000 won to drivers who make erratic lane changes or sudden breaks because they were on their phones.

Authorities have the right to be concerned about possible health risks from the spike in interest in the mobile game developed by Niantic, a U.S.-based software development company.

An elementary school student was hit by a truck in October in Aichi Prefecture, Japan, because the driver was playing Pokemon Go while driving. The 9-year-old died from the accident. Another driver playing the mobile game while driving in Japan hit two women in Fukushima Prefecture in August, one of whom died.

A 15-year-old girl was hit by a car while crossing a busy road in the United States in July. Her mother told reporters that she was hit while trying to find a Pokemon.

Authorities in Korea are communicating with Niantic on whether game usage could be limited in areas near schools. They are also cracking down on instances online, whereby some players are offering to sell their accounts to other players, or to catch Pokemon for others at a price.

Just two weeks since its official launch, the American mobile game continues to receive rave attention from pedestrians and drivers alike in Korea.

Even the bursts of air pollution that approach Korea as it nears the spring season have not stopped players from venturing outside.

“I heard that I can find a Pikachu near a high school in the area, so I’m coming from there,” said a woman in her 30s wearing a mask to keep out the dusty air at the Olympic Park in southern Seoul on Saturday.

In the location-based mobile game, players seek out Poke Stops, where they can gather items, and Poke Gyms, where they battle other players. There are some 70 Poke Stops near Gyeongbok Palace in central Seoul.

BY HAN YOUNG-IK, LEE HYUN AND HONG SANG-JI [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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