October 11, 2022
On a sunny September Sunday, Sara White and her family headed to Kings Island amusement park outside Cincinnati for a day of fun.
The 39-year-old dentist zipped her two-day-old iPhone 14 Pro securely in her fanny pack, buckled into the Mystic Timbers roller coaster and enjoyed getting hoisted 109 feet in the air and whipped around at over 50 miles per hour.
But, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal, afterward, she looked down at her phone. The lock screen was lined with missed calls and voice mails from an emergency dispatcher asking if she was OK.
During the ride, Apple’s new car Crash Detection triggered and automatically dialed 911. The call to the Warren County Communications Center featured an automated voice message from White’s iPhone: “The owner of this iPhone was in a severe car crash and is not responding to their phone.”
The message is repeated seven times during the call. As the phone made the call and played the automated message, it also picked up backgro
und audio from the scene—in this case, cheers, music, and other amusement-park sounds.
Indeed, Apple recently introduced Crash Detection in the newest Apple Watch and iPhone models. While it has already shown to help in real emergencies, it can also trigger false alarms, such as this recent 911 call from a roller coaster in Ohio.
According to the 911 report, a team was sent to the ride but didn’t locate an emergency. When White realized what happened—ironically, when in line for the bumper cars—she called back the number to tell them she was OK.
On one hand, it’s funny. On the other hand? There is nothing funny about busy emergency-services workers—and in some cases friends and family—accidentally being alerted to a tragedy that never happened.
The Warren County Communications Center provided The Wall Street Journal with recordings of six iPhone crash-detection calls from people at Kings Island rides, all received since the new iPhone 14 models went on sale in September. Similar alerts have been triggered by the Joker roller coaster at Six Flags Great America near Chicago.
Apple’s crash detection uses a combination of sensor data to assess a potential crash. If it detects one, it shows a warning on the screen for ten seconds; then, it starts a ten-second countdown, accompanied by an alarm sound. After the countdown, the phone calls 911, relaying a message and providing location details. If you have an emergency contact, it will send him or her a text.
And it really does work during an actual car crash: Recently, an iPhone 14 alerted authorities to a deadly crash in Nebraska, where a car hit a tree and there were no witnesses to immediately call for help.
An Apple spokesperson told the Journal that the crash-detection algorithms were validated using over one million hours of crash data, real-world driving, and crash-test labs. He added that the feature is “extremely accurate in detecting severe crashes” and that the company optimized it for getting users help while minimizing false positives.
In response to my questions, the Apple spokesman said the technology provides peace of mind, and Apple will continue to improve it over time.
Research contact: @WSJ