While its fun to get caught up in the Pokemon Go whirlwind, you should be aware of the risks that could put you on the wrong side of the law!
In recent weeks, the Pokemon Go phenomenon has swept Australia.
Within days of launch it has become the most popular mobile game in US history, and is predicted to reach $1 Billion in revenue this year.
If you have not heard of the latest craze, Pokemon Go bridges the gap between the virtual and real world. The game requires users, its ‘trainers’, to hunt for Pokemon and battle other users on their phones by visiting real world locations. While its fun to get caught up in the whirlwind, you should also beware of some risks where your poke-xploring could earn you the eyre of the criminal law.
Pokemon Go and the Law
In the car
The game encourages trainers – that’s you – to be on the move. Pokemon are hiding everywhere and can appear anytime. So it makes sense to keep the app on while driving around in case a Pokemon pops up at the traffic lights, right? Wrong! Multitask like this and under the Australian Road Rules you are committing the criminal offence of using a mobile phone whilst driving. This extends to the use of mobile phones where your vehicle is stationary but not parked, such as waiting at a red light. So if you see a Pikachu blobbing at an intersection, beware, the penalty for catching it while you are driving could be three demerit points against your drivers licence and an expiation fine of up to $400 in Western Australia, $320 in South Australia and $250 in the Northern Territory.
But its not just while you’re stopped. Get distracted by a Zubat flying over your car and your failure to pay attention whilst driving could see you facing a criminal charge of driving without due care. In Western Australia you will be facing a fine of $400 where your driving is deemed careless. Being charged with this offence in South Australia could see you in court facing a maximum penalty of a $2,500 fine and three demerit points against your drivers licence. In the Northern Territory, mistaking that Zubat for the back of the car in front of you, and having a minor accident as a result of your failure to drive without due care, will automatically see you caught with a $150 expiation fine.
On the streets
You may be an attentive driver, but what about when a Bulbasaur appears on the other side of the road while you’re walking to work? Face in your phone to keep an eye on it, you rush across the road and throw a pokeball at it. You’ve just stepped into oncoming traffic while operating a mobile phone, and caused a safety hazard to traffic. You’ve committed a criminal offence, which will see you forking out for a $100 expiation fine in Western Australia, a $47 fine in South Australia and a $60 fine in the Northern Territory. Good trainers always look both ways before crossing the road.
There’s a big battle on at the local Pokemon gym, and you and your fellow trainers are all flocking to it. You’re battling the gym leader on the street, and your fellow trainers are all crowding around. It’s night and there are no cars around. Fine, right? Wrong. You and your fellow trainers are causing an obstruction in a public place, to other pedestrians or road users. You and your fellow trainers are just a large group of people congested in one location, making traffic unable to pass or making it difficult to do so. It’s not a battle, it’s an obstruction and you each could be liable for a maximum penalty of $750.
So you’ve avoided creating an obstruction, and you’re trawling the streets alone. All of a sudden, there’s a wiggly Jigglypuff standing like a big ball of fairyfloss behind someone’s fence. It’s irresistible! But walk in to catch it and you’ve just entered private property without permission. Fail to leave when the irate property owner, sick of you Pokemon trainers trespassing, asks you to leave, and you’ve committed a criminal trespass and are liable to a maximum penalty of $2,500 or imprisonment for six months in South Australia and a maximum penalty of $12,000 or imprisonment for 12 months in Western Australia.
Don’t think you can come back when the owner is in bed either, if you’re asked to leave you can’t come back for 24 hours. You’ll also end up with a criminal conviction on your record for a minimum of 10 years.
And if you launch a pokeball at an Onyx, lose your grip on your phone, and smash someone’s window, you’ve damaged property. Even though you haven’t done so wilfully, you might be caught by the quirky offence of damaging property by playing a game and be liable to a maximum fine of $250 in South Australia. Do serious damage and you could be facing with a maximum penalty of imprisonment for seven years in the Northern Territory.
So, what happens if you inadvertently get injured in your Poke-adventures? If you’re in a public space, you would do well to be just as focused on your immediate surroundings as with grabbing the Charmander in cubicle two in the railway toilets. If a rival gamer or an innocent bystander bowls you over because you’re not watching where you’re going, you will have little chance of claiming compensation. Similarly, if you bowl over an elderly lady with a walker in your frantic pursuits, you better hope that you have home and contents insurance that covers you for the fractured hip and law suit that could follow.
An exception might be if a private or public occupier agrees to allow a character to be placed on their premises and you get injured on those premises in some sort of fracas over who has the rightful claim to the Meowth sitting on the bar stool.
By allowing premises to be used as a poke-stop, the owner might be opening themselves up to a negligence claim if they don’t supervise or police the area to make sure that no fights break out over who got there first.
To summarise …
Have fun with Pokemon Go! Just be sure to use common sense, beware of others, your surroundings, and keep your wits about you! By all means catch ‘em all, but don’t let yourself get caught by the law.