Apple's iPhones and watches have sensors and safety features that are intended to only activate Crash Detection in genuine emergencies. However, skiers and snowmobilers are unintentionally setting it off, which is frustrating emergency dispatchers.
Winter recreation is proving to be a perfect storm for false alarms, despite Apple's best attempts to guarantee that its new Crash Detection feature is only activated when there is serious danger.
According to Minnesota Public Radio, false alarms from the new feature are becoming a bigger concern for emergency services, especially as more people participate in winter sports like skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling (as noted by 9to5Mac). Fast starts, stops, and jolts can trick iPhones and Apple Watches into believing there has been an accident, and winter weather clothing makes it difficult to tell when your watch or phone is generating an alert. They offer a unique combination of elements. It's a challenging issue without a clear, fast remedy.
Apple's Series 8 watch and iPhone 14 both have Crash Detection. It uses sensor data to determine whether a serious auto collision has occurred, or at least that is what it is intended to do. It will ask you to phone emergency services or cancel if you're okay if it believes there has been a crash. After a 20-second countdown if there is no response, the device will automatically dial 911.
It has successfully called in emergency personnel to assist crash victims when it functions properly. But it's also creating some issues, particularly when your phone isn't readily available. Emergency dispatchers in ski resort communities are reporting a massive surge of automated calls from skiers' iPhones. People on rollercoasters keep accidently dialling 911.
As one of Apple's defenses against false alarms, the phone or watch will vibrate and emit a siren for 10 seconds of the 20-second countdown in an effort to capture your attention so you may stop it before an unnecessary emergency call is sent. But it seems ineffective if your watch or phone is hidden by several layers of clothes or if the noise of a snowmobile engine is drowning it out. When that occurs, dispatchers get a call with the device's coordinates and an automated message, and they often send an emergency responder to the area - even though it's most likely a false alarm.
According to a dispatcher who works in Summit County, Colorado, it takes "a significant amount of resources" to attend to every mistaken 911 call and that they "are not in the practice of rejecting calls," according to the Colorado Sun.
The apparent solution is to disable the feature, which you can do under settings, in order to prevent dialling 911 by mistake. First responders have nevertheless received genuine emergencies using Crash Detection, despite the fact that the great majority of emergency calls that it appears to cause are false alarms. According to MPR's story, a dispatcher they spoke to get an Apple Watch warning about a serious crash shortly after giving the news outlet an interview.
And that's precisely the kind of circumstance where you would require this kind of feature—if you're skiing or snowmobiling in a remote area. Additionally, it would be simple to forget to re-enable it after turning it off for an afternoon on the slopes.
Apple will probably need to release a software update as part of the remedy. When notified about the problem, Apple didn't answer right away, but it has already made a few changes to the feature: The "optimizations" for Crash Detection were included to iOS 16.1.2, while iOS 16.2 added a UX feature for reporting false positives to Apple. If you're exercising in a busy place, it might be advisable to disable the feature until anything changes. If you're wearing an Apple Watch, you can leave Fall Detection on while disabling Crash Detection as well. This may lower the likelihood of a false alarm while maintaining some emergency functions. However, if you completely turn it off, perhaps make a reminder for yourself to turn it back on after you're finished, just in case.