iPhones calling 911 from owners’ pockets on rollercoasters

New iPhones which can detect car crashes and notify emergency services appear confused by thrill rides

Apple’s newest phone has been automatically calling emergency services from the pockets of people riding rollercoasters in the US, mistaking the bumps and jerks of the rides as car crashes.

The latest iPhone 14, as well as newer Apple watches, includes a feature that detects the signs and vibrations typical of a serious car accident – and calls 911 if the owner does not respond to a prompt to cancel.

Since the new model went on sale in September, the Warren County 911 communications centre in Ohio received at least six crash-detection calls from people on rides, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.

All of them were made automatically from Kings Island, an amusement park near Cincinnati that includes the Orion, a 91mph thrill ride that plummets more than 300ft (90 metres).

Other alerts were also triggered by the 12-storey Joker rollercoaster at Six Flags Great America near Chicago, Illinois, the newspaper reported.

Since the iPhone 14 went on sale, the 911 dispatch center near Kings Island amusement park has received at least six phones calls saying:

“The owner of this iPhone was in a severe car crash...”

Except, the owner was just on a roller coaster.

🆕 by me: https://t.co/hp1fHZBIf6 pic.twitter.com/i0lZPoWzGz

— Joanna Stern (@JoannaStern) October 9, 2022

One automated call, made by the phone of Sara White as she enjoyed a 50mph ride on Mystic Timbers at Kings Island, told emergency services of her coordinates and said: “The owner of this iPhone was in a severe car crash and is not responding to their phone.” In the background of the automated message, cheers and music can be heard.

Apple’s new crash detection software can alert emergency services when owners are unresponsive or unconscious. After a deadly accident in the US state of Nebraska in which a car hit a tree, an iPhone alerted authorities even though there were no witnesses.

To avoid false alarms, the phone will show a warning on the screen and start a 20-second countdown while an alarm sound blares. However, it might not be heard at a loud amusement park while being rocked around on a ride.

Apple told the Wall Street Journal that the feature is optimised to bring users aid quickly while minimising false positives. It will be improved over time, a spokesperson said.

Currently, the iPhone also notifies emergency contacts when it senses a “crash”, something that appears to have caused panic after false alarms.

The Wall Street Journal spoke to a man whose new iPhone 14 Pro Max flew off his motorcycle’s handlebars while he was riding in New York late last month.

Douglas Sonders could not find his phone so carried on with his day, but the iPhone’s crash detection sent text messages to all his emergency contacts, including his mother and his partner.

“I was freaking out. I was thinking the worst,” Gabrielle Kennedy, Sonders’ girlfriend, told the Wall Street Journal. “My best friend passed away in a car accident,” she said. “It brought me right back there.”


Oliver Holmes and Gloria Oladipo

The GuardianTramp

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