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Apple's Crash Detection is flooding 911 dispatchers with false alarms

Some ski resorts are now asking iPhone 14 and Apple Watch owners to turn off the feature.

Published onFebruary 3, 2023

A user enables Crash Detection on their Apple Watch.
Kaitlyn Cimino / Android Authority
  • Skiers are triggering Apple’s Crash Detection feature and unintentionally sending false alarms to 911 dispatchers.
  • The problem became so bad it’s forcing ski resorts to put up signs asking iPhone 14 and Apple Watch owners to turn the feature off or update to the latest version of the software.
  • The dispatchers say that they very rarely see this problem with Android devices.

Having to deal with false alarms is the last thing any 911 dispatcher or first responder needs. But that problem has seemingly ramped up ever since Apple released its Crash Detection feature. The most recent report of the issue appears to have Colorado dispatchers and responders increasingly frustrated.

Apple introduced Crash Detection — a feature Android has had for a while — during the launch of the iPhone 14. The feature is exclusive to the iPhone 14 and the Apple Watch Ultra. When the feature thinks you’ve been in a crash, it sends an SOS to emergency services.

Skiers in Summit County, Colorado have been unwittingly triggering the feature, based on a report from The New York Times. The problem has become so common that first responders are worried that their limited resources could be diverted from real emergencies. They’re also worried that dispatchers could become desensitized to these automated distress calls.

“My whole day is managing crash notifications,” said Trina Drummer, the interim director of emergency services in Summit County. According to the report, her department received 185 of these calls between January 13 to January 22. Drummer points out that the number was usually about half of that on a busy day in the past. “Apple needs to put in their own call center if this is a feature they want.”

After being alerted to the issue, Apple reportedly sent four representatives to observe the call center for a day. Apple spokesman Alex Kirschner then provided this statement.

We have been aware that in some specific scenarios these features have triggered emergency services when a user didn’t experience a severe car crash or hard fall. Crash Detection and Fall Detection are designed to get users help when they need it most, and it has already contributed to saving several lives.

Typically Crash Detection alerts the user before sending a distress call, giving users 10 seconds to turn it off. However, skiers aren’t noticing the buzzing or loud sounds due to the multiple layers of clothing they’re wearing. Apple has said that updates released late in 2022 “had been intended to ‘optimize’ the technology and reduce the number of false calls.”

Because of how much trouble Crash Detection has been causing, ski resorts are now posting up signs asking iPhone 14 and Apple Watch owners to either turn the feature off or update to the latest version of the software.

As for Android’s version of the feature, it appears to be working as intended. Drummer said that her team “very rarely” had to deal with false alarms sent by devices from other companies.

Although this is the most recent case of this issue, it isn’t the only time Apple’s Crash Detection has caused headaches. Back in November, the same problem was reported in Park City, Utah.

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