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Google's Pixel car crash detection let me down on a recent trip

How dare you leave the confines of your country with a Pixel in hand?

Published onNovember 11, 2023

google pixel car crash detection disabled
Rita El Khoury / Android Authority

For all of the smarts that Google’s Pixel line-up offers, there’s a drawback us privileged EU and US folks don’t often talk about: availability. Whether it’s countries where you can buy the Pixel 8 and those where you can’t, markets where Google disables 5G and forces you down to 4G, or locations where some of Google’s smartest Pixel-only features aren’t available, there’s always a limitation somewhere.

And while it makes sense to restrict some features to Google’s officially-supported markets on paper, there’s always the question of travel. What if you’re a Pixel user and you did the unthinkable act of crossing country borders with your phone? Do you dare expect it to work the same way it does in your home territory, or will features get disabled left and right?

I had the displeasure of discovering the answer to one of those questions on a recent trip to Bilbao, Spain. The moment I turned off Airplane mode on my Pixel 8 Pro, a notification popped up telling me that car crash detection had been disabled.

google pixel car crash detection off
Rita El Khoury / Android Authority

Weird, I thought. I was in an official Google market — Spain — where car crash detection is officially supported. I come from France, another official market with car crash detection. And thanks to EU regulations, my SIM card basically works the same way in Spain and France. Alas, not in Google’s eyes.

Apparently, you can’t use car crash detection when you’re roaming. Period. It doesn’t matter if you’re going from one supported country to another; it doesn’t matter if you’re within the EU; it doesn’t even matter if you still have access to calls and data. The Pixel sees your SIM card roaming and disables the function. I would’ve had to buy a Spanish SIM card just to enable it.

Car crash detection is disabled when you're roaming, even in a supported country.

That is very frustrating. A crucial life-saving feature shouldn’t be locked behind silly restrictions, especially in a world where people travel quite frequently and in a continent where everyone moves around very easily.

I understand that one of the aspects of car crash detection is calling emergency services, but if my roaming SIM can dial 112 for free in Spain even without a network, then why can’t the Pixel trigger it in the case of an emergency? That’s nonsensical. I’d even settle for a low-grade crash detection that lets me call my own emergency contacts if I were in an accident. Just tell me, “Hey, we can’t offer full car crash detection here, but there’s a backup option you can use and it’ll cost you as much as a roaming call; do you agree?” Instant yes.

For the five days that I was in Bilbao, I walked, used transit, and then rented a car for a day, all while aware that one of the life-saving features I usually rely on with my Pixel 8 Pro was disabled. And then, when I touched down in Paris, car crash detection came back on. My Pixel just wants me to be eco-conscious and stay home, I guess.

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