iPhone feature blamed for influx of 911 calls from Wisconsin winter enthusiasts

18 January 2023

(WFRV) – A new iPhone feature is causing problems for dispatch centers in Wisconsin.

On iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro models, as well as the newest versions of Apple Watch, Apple has introduced a crash detection feature that automatically makes emergency calls after the device detects the user has been in a “severe crash.”

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The feature was recently credited with helping authorities find two people who crashed down the side of a California mountain in a remote area of the Angeles National Forest.

However, the safety tool seems to be setting off a false alarm for some people enjoying common winter activities.

Deputies with northern Wisconsin’s Bayfield County Sheriff’s Office say that on Sunday, they received multiple automated messages from iPhones reporting crashes that did not happen.

“This feature is great in theory, but when people don’t answer dispatch and dispatch can hear snowmobiles driving around, it is a drain on resources in the area,” said deputies. “We have found that this feature is very sensitive while snowmobiling.”

On the northwestern side of the state, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office reported a similar issue, stating that snowmobiling isn’t the only activity setting off the feature – ATV/UTV rides and downhill skiing can as well.

“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,” added deputies from Polk County.

Law enforcement is required to send out a welfare check on all 911 calls, thus draining resources from fire, law, and emergency service departments.

This isn’t the first time the Apple feature has caused trouble for law enforcement. Last year, authorities found roller coasters could trigger the feature.

According to Apple’s support website, crash detection is designed to detect severe car crashes. When a severe car crash – like a head-on crash, a rear-end collision or a hit from the side – is detected, an alarm is sounded and an alert is displayed on the user’s iPhone and Watch.

The display then allows the user to swipe to make an emergency call or decline the option. If a user does not respond within 20 seconds, Apple will automatically call emergency services.

There were recent updates to Apple’s iOS that optimized crash detection.

If you have an iPhone 14 or 14 Pro or an Apple Watch Series 8, SE, or Ultra, you can opt to turn off crash detection. On your phone, go to Settings, then Emergency SOS and turn off Call After Severe Crash. For your Watch, open the Apple Watch app on your iPhone. Then under the My Watch tab, tap Emergency SOS, then turn off Call After Severe Crash.

If you have an older model iPhone or Apple Watch, you don’t have access to the crash detection feature.

Nexstar reached out to Apple for comment but the company declined to give a statement for this story.

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