Your iPhone and Apple Watch want to protect you, but sometimes they’re a little overzealous about it. In order to save your life in the event of a car accident, they will contact the emergency services on your behalf and let them know what is going on. Only occasionally will they mistake harmless activities for horrible accidents. One minute you are enjoying skiing on the slopes; the next day, you explain to the police that no, you are in fact not in danger.
The feature at issue here is Collision Detection, a new addition to recent Apple devices including the iPhone 14, 14 Plus, 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max, as well as the Apple Watch Series 8, Apple Watch Ultra and the latest Apple Watch SE. Using the updated technology in these devices, Crash Detection scans your surroundings to determine if you’ve been in a serious accident. According to Applethe devices look for “frontal, side and rear collisions, and rollovers”, involving “sedans, minivans, SUVs, pickup trucks and other passenger cars”.
However, it seems that the functionality is a bit too sensitive. As reported by KSL, dispatchers in Summit County, Utah, are seeing an increase in emergency calls because of Apple’s collision detection, but not because Utah drivers are crashing more. Turns out the feature is disabled while some users are skiing. It’s unclear if collision detection is triggered due to the speed at which skiers are moving or when skiers fall while going fast, but according to Summit County Dispatch Center Supervisor Suzie Butterfield, the dispatchers receive three to five of these alerts. day, and no real accidents.
Apple designed Crash Detection with a short grace period to prevent the device from contacting emergency services. When your iPhone or Apple Watch triggers collision detection, you have 20 seconds to tell it that you haven’t been in an accident. Of course, when you’re actively skiing, you’re almost guaranteed to miss these alerts, dooming you to an encounter with emergency services.
It’s not just the police who are notified. If you set up emergency contacts, your iPhone or Apple Watch will tell those contacts that you’ve been in a serious accident and send them your current location so they can help you. They might be curious why your bad car accident happened in the middle of a ski resort, but, hey, stranger things have happened.
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This isn’t the first time Crash Detection has been tricked. Apple had to fix an issue where iPhones were contacting emergency services while their users were riding roller coasters. This issue, along with these skiing anecdotes, implies that collision detection can be tricked by specific high-speed activities. Could riding on a particularly bumpy subway car trigger the feature? How about rollerblading? We can see more of these incidents popping up over time.
The dispatcher interviewed in the article doesn’t want people to completely disable this feature because it can save lives in a real emergency. A user’s Apple Watch Series 8 brought EMS to its crash in five minuteswhen he would otherwise not have had the ability to contact 911 himself.
How to prevent Crash Detection from calling 911 by mistake
That said, you also don’t want your ski weekend to be disrupted by constant calls to the emergency services. If you know you’re going skiing, you can turn off the auto-call part of the feature. On your iPhone, go to Settings > Emergency SOS, then deactivate “Call after a serious accident”. To turn off the feature on your Apple Watch, open the Watch app on your iPhone, then choose “Emergency SOS” and turn off Call after serious accident. Judon’t forget to turn it back on before setting off.
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