Car Crash Detection

Joanna Stern, Wall Street Journal:

During the ride, Apple’s new car-crash detection triggered and automatically dialed 911. The call to the Warren County Communications Center, which you can listen to here, featured an automated voice message from Ms. White’s iPhone:

“The owner of this iPhone was in a severe car crash and is not responding to their phone.”

The message is repeated seven times during the call. As the phone made the call and played the automated message, it also picked up background audio from the scene — in this case cheers, music and other amusement-park sounds.

If I were someone’s emergency contact, I would certainly worry if I received that message. Stern reports several instances of this at different roller coasters across the U.S., while Douglas Sonders at Jalopnik wrote about crash detection activating after his phone fell off his motorcycle. Stern also says some people say their iPhone detected a crash after it was dropped while they were in a car.

This is somewhat off-topic, but please do not use your phone while you are behind the wheel. Also avoid using touch screen controls, like CarPlay, unless you are parked. I try not to be preachy, but I recently dodged a red light runner who was distracted by their phone and I can imagine few more selfish yet commonplace acts than shirking one’s responsibility when controlling a multi-tonne vehicle.

Anyway. It is possible false automatic car crash reports are not a new problem — Google recently reminded people that it added crash detection to its Pixel phones three years ago. But Google does not sell nearly as many Pixels as Apple does iPhones, so perhaps this has not exactly been a problem until recently.

Brian Heater, TechCrunch:

Last week, TechCrunch sat down with a pair of Apple executives for a conversation about the feature’s [car crash detection’s] ins and outs. Vice president, Sensing & Connectivity, Ron Huang, and vice president, Worldwide iPhone Product Marketing, Kaiann Drance, answered some of our burning questions about Crash Detection, to give us a better picture of what Apple’s latest safety brings to the table for iPhone and Apple Watch users.


Apple worked with a number of crash labs to gather the necessary data and perform real-world testing, in order to assure an acceptable level of efficacy for the feature. It’s intentionally difficult to trigger outside the intended scenario, so you don’t accidentally call emergency services. That also goes for if your phone accidentally falls from the mount while driving, or even a less severe crash.

It sounds like crash detection is not quite as refined as Apple would hope, but if these are algorithm changes, it seems like something which can be fine tuned through software updates. Users should not need to remember to turn off this feature before spending the day at an amusement park, and it definitely should not trigger when someone drops their phone.

What could be done to prevent an issue like the one Sonders faced? It makes sense for the iPhone to believe it was in a crash if it fell off a moving motorcycle, but calling emergency services and automatically texting friends and loved ones about an apparent serious crash is unhelpful and alarming.