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Accidental 911 calls increase with new iPhone crash detection technology

Crash detection technology automatically alerts 911 when a severe car crash is detected, but it’s frequently leading to false reports


An unexpected challenge for first responders is on the rise due to a relatively new safety feature on smartphones.


By Sarah Roebuck

RALEIGH, N.C. — An unexpected challenge for first responders is emerging due to a relatively new smartphone safety feature that is causing false crash reports for iPhone users.

Apple’s crash detection technology automatically alerts 911 when a severe car crash is detected. While helpful in theory, the new technology is leading to multiple false reports across the country, according to WTHR.

Dispatchers in Johnson County, Indiana, were alerted with an automated message stating, “The owner of this iPhone was in a severe car crash and is not responding to their phone,” WTHR reports.

The alert led first responders to an empty scene. When crews looked around the scene, they found an iPhone on the road.

Bargersville Deputy Fire Chief Mike Pruitt told WTHR the phone was likely on someone’s car and fell on the ground, mistakenly reporting a crash.

The iPhone’s crash detection has reportedly been initiated on roller coasters and during other activities, like skiing, taking time away from other emergencies.

Other agencies have reported similar issues. In Waukesha County, Wisconsin, dispatchers were overloaded with 300 unintentional calls over the past few weeks, FOX6 reports.

Gary Bell, director of emergency preparedness for Waukesha County, told FOX6 the calls were coming from the emergency notification system on smart devices. Accidental 911 calls can happen when you tap your smartwatch wrong or hold down the wrong buttons on your phone.

“People are just setting them down,” Bell told FOX6. “They’re pressing the button, and the button is launching a 911 call.”

Bell said the uptick in abandoned 911 calls is due to more activity from the weather. He said if you do accidentally call, don’t hang up.

“It takes us half the time to resolve the issue with someone who has the device in their hand than it does when we have to try an attempted call back,” Bell told FOX6. “You’re not in trouble.”

Within the last few months, Apple has updated and optimized its crash-detection technology. Despite an uptick in false 911 calls, first responders say there is a benefit to the technology.

For example, if the calls had been true emergencies, the phone alerts dispatchers to the direct location through longitude and latitude coordinates.

The crash detection technology has also been credited with saving a man’s life in Florida after his car flipped into a canal, making him not visible from the road.

WPBF reported the man’s iPhone alerted 911 dispatchers to the crash, sending the exact location.

Deputies said in that case, the rescue may have never happened without the man’s phone.