The Polk County Sheriff’s Department in Wisconsin is warning that the new crash detection feature on the iPhone 14, which automatically calls 9-1-1 after it detects a vehicle accident, is leading to false alarms from users participating in extreme sports or just normal outdoor recreation.
“It doesn’t understand our Midwest lifestyle,” the agency posted on Facebook. “It thinks our crazy fun snowmobiling, riding an ATV/UTV, or even downhill skiing is actually a crash based on the noise and jostling of the phone. Polk County Dispatch received several 911 calls last weekend but nobody talked to us, and in the background we could hear you were (most likely) still having a great time out in the snow.”
Sheriff Brent Waak explained to WEAU News that the feature, designed to be helpful in emergency situations, is too often having the opposite effect. “It ties up our resources,” he said. “Our message to people is if you’re going to participate in these activities, be aware that your phone could be calling 911 when it isn’t an emergency, and you could potentially block someone who is having an emergency,”
August Ringelstetter, an Apple technician at MacMan in Eau Claire, explained to the news outlet how the feature works: “Crash detection is relatively new actually. It’s only available on iPhone 14, 14 Pro, on Apple Watch series 8 and Apple Watch Ultra.”
When the feature is triggered due to a sudden deceleration of movement or a loud bang, there is a 20-second time window during which iPhone users can deactivate the call.
“If you respond within those 20 seconds you can actually stop it from calling emergency services,” Ringelstetter said.
The Chippewa County Sheriff’s Office also advised the public to pay attention to this feature on their phones.
“Just be responsive. We have an obligation to make sure you are OK,” Sheriff Travis Hakes told WEAU.
The crash detection feature can be toggled off and on in the phone’s settings.
“If you’re going somewhere where you’ll be going fast and stopping or if there is loud bangs, crashes and stuff like that, that’s something you may want to have the crash detection turned off,” Ringelstetter advised.
Law enforcement officials are asking users to temporarily disable the feature before engaging in activities that might trigger a false alarm, or at least keep an eye on their phones to ensure they don’t make an emergency call. But they are still concerned about the technology.
“It’s just unfortunate we are getting so many false alarms on it that it’s going to turn into a situation where if there was a true emergency people may not… they’ll think ‘Oh, it’s just another false alarm,” Waak said.
However, the iPhone 14 feature has already proven useful in some real cases of accidents. In October last year, police in Nebraska were alerted to a fatal car crash via a victim’s phone.
“We’d rather have the system in place and know that it works, and respond to a thousand unintentional calls, than to not respond to that one call we really needed to,” Sheriff Hakes added.