Why Your iPhone Might Call 911 When You Ride a Roller Coaster

October 9, 2022, 8:54 PM · A roller coaster ride might not cause your iPhone to crash. But a coaster might cause your phone to call 911 because it thinks you did.

Apple’s new iPhone 14 can call 911 automatically when its internal motion tracking systems perceive a sudden change in motion and direction, such as what happens in a car crash. Trouble is, the new “crash detection” function can’t always tell the difference between the turbulence of a car crash and that from an amusement park thrill ride.

Want the receipts? The Wall Street Journal’s Joanna Stern has them, with records of at least six recent automatic 9111 calls from iPhones to the dispatch center nearest Kings Island.

This might provide another reason for riders not to bring mobile phones into thrill rides. Or at least to disable the crash detection function before you do. [Here is how.] But sometime soon, Apple needs to reprogram crash detection to better distinguish between a rollover crash and a heartline roll. To be fair, though, distinguishing between a bad fender bender and a spirited bumper car ride might not be all that simple. There’s a real research challenge here to find the point where the false positives won’t cause consumers and first responders to dismiss a system that could save lives when triggered properly.

Clearly, the current system ain’t there yet.

The iPhone is supposed to provide a 20-second warning before dialing 911, to provide users the chance to dismiss the message. But if you’re on a ride that won’t end for the next minute or so, that warning is not gonna help.

Some parks prohibit bringing loose items onto major coasters, given the history of those items flying from people’s pockets (or hands) and sometimes injuring others. This programming bug provides another reason for parks to crack down, to protect their relationship with local emergency services, who do not want to be called repeatedly for avoidable false alarms.

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Replies (6)

October 10, 2022 at 1:04 AM

There should be another option in this poll. My answer basically is: "I prefer not to bring my phone on rides but will do so (when allowed) to avoid having to get a locker."

October 10, 2022 at 9:20 AM

Station bins v. lockers rant forthcoming.

October 10, 2022 at 10:32 AM

I just called Steve Jobs and he said Apple will add a roller coaster Mode..

just kidding... (Of course, there are many things wrong in this statement)...

October 10, 2022 at 12:45 PM

I wonder if Apple couldn't just add some code that considers the phones location via GPS.

October 10, 2022 at 5:55 PM

911 Responder: Sir, this is 911 Emergency Response. We just received notice from your iPhone 14 that you’re in the vicinity of a horrible train wreck. Do you need help?
Me: Oh, that’s a misunderstanding. I was just walking by Fast and Furious: Supercharged.

October 10, 2022 at 6:57 PM

911 Responder: We will send a rescue team to get you out of there and into the VelociCoaster queue right away.

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