iPhone Car Crash Feature Makes Bogus 911 Calls

John Lister's picture

An iPhone safety feature has backfired in embarrassing fashion. 911 dispatchers say they've had multiple false alerts of car crashes involving people who were actually on a rollercoaster.

The iPhone 14, the latest model, has a crash detection feature. It's triggered by the built-in accelerometer and other sensors that are normally used for features such as automatically rotating the display when a user turns the phone to landscape mode.

When triggered, the phone will eventually call 911 and play an automatically generated message saying "The owner of this iPhone was in a severe car crash and is not responding to their phone." It will also pass on the precise location. The feature can also send a text message to emergency contacts. (Source: wsj.com)

Apple had tried to find a balance between avoiding false alerts and not being quick enough in a genuine emergency. When the crash detection is triggered, the device shows an on-screen warning for 10 seconds, then plays an alarm for a 10-second countdown. Only then does it make the emergency call. (Source: theregister.com)

The company also says it has carried out thousand of hours of testing to correctly identify crashes without being triggered by other events.

Fanny Pack Foiled Alert

Unfortunately that didn't do the trick for one visitor to an amusement park. Not only did a rollercoaster cause an alert, but the owner had placed the phone in a fanny pack to keep it safe during the ride. That meant they didn't see or hear the alert.

Another iPhone user in a similar incident said they did spot the alert but had no safe way to retrieve the phone and cancel it given they were on a rollercoaster. Local dispatchers say they've had six such alerts from one theme park alone.

Rollercoaster aren't the only cause of false alarms. One motorcyclist with a handlebar mount for his iPhone saw the device fly off at high speed and decided there was no realistic prospect of finding it. They only found out later that the phone had sent out an alert to his friends before presumably being destroyed on impact.

Alert Too Certain

It looks like the false alert problem will need a range of implementation, technological and user solutions. Apple is investigating how it can better distinguish between a car crash and a rollercoaster, particularly on rides which feature an intentional sudden slowdown.

Dispatchers have pointed to the wording of the alert and said it could be more accurate to say the user "may" have been in a crash. And the theme park has reminded users that it advises them to leave phones behind when riding a rollercoaster.

What's Your Opinion?

Should Apple have foreseen this risk? Is the feature itself worthwhile? Should Apple warn users to switch their phones off before riding rollercoasters?

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glen's picture

I think that all of these 'tech weenies' should take the rest of the year off - without pay! I had the opportunity to ride in a new pickup a year ago or so and the 'warnings' were enough to drive me nuts! 'You're too close to the shoulder', you're too close to the center line', 'you forgot to shower this morning'!

Years ago I owned a '69 Ford F-250 which had a fuse block with nine (9) fuses and it worked great. Compare that with anything that you can buy today.

Chief's picture

I second the motion.
The tech weenies are too eager to fix problems that may or may not exist.
One simple thought the weenies obviously did not have was to limit the car crash message to phones which were actually connected to a car!
But, since every weenie assumes it will be surrounded by a bun - and we all know that's not true, I supposed we're doomed to false positives.

Or just buy androids!

ronangel1's picture

In the late 70s-early 80s There was a UK electronics surplus equipment company/store that bought job lots.
They bought hundreds of brand new talking add on units from a UK car manufacture.I bought one to take apart.and see if could be used for something else.It simply connected to the ignition and none ignition power sources and ground. Every time ignition was turned on it gave a message in a sort of robot voice "Have you checked your oil and water,thank you"
After driving about an hour said something like"you have been driving for one hour,time for a break" If ignition not turned off got similar messages every 15-30 minutes.It also had other messages which I don't remember.
I did not throw out of the window but into a box for spare parts! No idea what happened to it.
For some reason it was not installed in all models of particular car? Maybe only on export models.....Hopefully ones being sent to America!

matt_2058's picture

Tell me about it, wish I had never sold my '69 F-100. I can't tell you how many fuses it had, but it was very easy to diagnose and work on. Dead battery= bad battery or alternator or voltage regulator! Only bad thing was the gas tank behind the seat in the summer....fumes were slight but there.