Apple Collecting Feedback From Dispatchers Receiving False 911 Calls From Skiers

Emergency dispatch centers continue to complain about Apple’s new Crash Detection feature triggering an influx of false 911 calls from skiers and snowboarders.

Apple Crash Detection Skiing
A report today from the New York Post notes that New York’s Greene County and Pennsylvania’s Carbon County have experienced a burdensome increase in false 911 calls from local ski resorts due to Crash Detection. The feature allows the latest iPhone and Apple Watch models to detect a severe car crash and automatically call emergency services if the user is unresponsive, but it is also activating when some skiers and snowboarders take a tumble.

Given that emergency dispatchers respond to all calls out of an abundance of caution, the influx in false alarms has put a strain on some call centers and could divert personnel and resources away from real emergencies. There have been several reports about the issue in other popular ski resort areas like Colorado, Minnesota, Utah, and British Columbia, Canada since Apple introduced the feature last year.

In response to the report, an Apple spokesperson told the Post that the company was collecting feedback from emergency call centers that have experienced an increase in automated 911 calls due to the feature, but declined to comment further.

Crash Detection is enabled by default on all iPhone 14 models and the latest Apple Watch models, including the Series 8, Ultra, and second-generation SE. When a crash is detected, the iPhone or Apple Watch displays an alert, which users have 10 seconds to act on. If the user is unresponsive, the device begins another 10-second countdown while sounding an alarm and vibrating/tapping, and then calls emergency services. Due to loud surroundings and thick outerwear, however, some users may be unaware that the feature was triggered.

Apple says the feature relies on sensors like the accelerometer and gyroscope in the iPhone and Apple Watch, along with “advanced Apple-designed motion algorithms trained with over a million hours of real-world driving and crash record data” for increased accuracy. As with rollercoasters, the iPhone and Apple Watch may be mistaking the abrupt movement of skiing and snowboarding as a car crash in some situations.

Apple released iOS 16.1.2 in late November with unspecified Crash Detection optimizations for iPhone 14 models, followed by watchOS 9.2 in mid-December with Apple Watch optimizations. It’s unclear if these optimizations have led to a reduction in false 911 calls from skiers and snowboarders; in any case, it will likely take some time before all users update their iPhone or Apple Watch to the latest software versions.

Despite this issue, there have already been several reports about the life-saving feature alerting first responders to actual car crashes.

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