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And finally, the paper we all have been waiting for: “Death by Pokémon GO“.

November 22, 2017

Mara Faccio (Purdue University, NBER, ABFER, ECGI) and John J. McConnell (Purdue University) released a working paper this month which will definitely cause some stir with the general public. One thing is sure already: it made it onto our list of the most entertaining economics papers released this year. Titled “Death by Pokémon GO” it uses an event-study design to estimate the total incremental cost of playing Pokémon GO while driving in Tippecanoe County, Indiana.

Though the paper may seem funny at first, it does touch on some serious issues. It links the widespread use of smartphones and increases in app usage to increased car crashes and fatalities. The authors state that: “[…] [T]he possible connection between smartphone usage and vehicular crashes has been cited by the Insurance Information Institute as one explanation for the 16% increase in insurance premiums between 2011 and 2016.“ Faccio and McConnell also note that: “Attributing any increase in crashes and fatalities to smartphone usage and app availability is, of course, extraordinarily difficult given that many other factors also changed over the years in which both increased.”

Although not being the first to investigate the connection between the rise of the smartphones and vehicular crashes, Faccio and McConnell provide some novel insights by making use of an ingenious idea and providing robust results. By employing a difference-in-difference analysis that controls for a variety of confounding factors, Faccio and McConnell can show that crashes near PokéStops significantly increased from before to after July 6th, 2016 (when the game was released). The authors find that the costs associated with this increase in vehicular crashes range from $5.2 million to $25.5 million1 over the first 148 days following the release of the game. Extrapolation of these estimates to nation-wide levels yields a total cost ranging from $2.0 to $7.3 billion for the same period.

The paper is available from the SSRN website: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3073723


1. With the variability in the range being largely attributable to the sad loss of two lives.

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