Ski Slopes Trigger Flood Of 911 Calls From Apple Devices

Image credit: Vail Ski Resort

Ski slopes in Colorado trigger dozens of calls every day from crash-detection feature enabled by default in new Apple iPhone 14s and watches

A crash-detection feature in new Apple iPhones and watches has led to a flood of false-positive emergency services calls in Colorado ski towns.

The feature has been praised for saving lives, but is leading to large numbers of false positives on ski slopes, with Colorado’s Summit County receiving 71 false positive 911 calls last weekend, local media reported.

Emergency operators must in most cases call the user back or take other measures to determine what has happened, meaning a “tremendous drain on our resources”, Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons told the Colorado Sun.

Other Colorado counties with busy ski resorts said they typically get 15 to 30 automated calls from Apple devices each day.

Apple iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Plus

False positives

In only one case did the calls involve a real incident, a car crash in Vail that occurred last week, after which the iPhones of both parties called 911 simultaneously, dispatchers said.

Apple enabled the feature earlier in watches, but only brought it to its smartphones with the iPhone 14, released this year.

The crash detection feature, enabled by default on all Apple watches and iPhone 14s, uses hardware sensors to detect when it believes a serious car crash has taken place.

The device then activates a loud alert on the device and begins a 20-second countdown during which the user can cancel the emergency call.

Flood of calls

If they don’t cancel, the device rings the 911 emergency number and repeats an automatic message giving the coordinates of the user and saying they’ve been involved in a serious car crash.

But skiiers often quickly stop or fall, without needing emergency assistance, something that the devices frequently mistake for a car accident, according to dispatchers.

They may not hear the device alerting them that it is about to make a 911 call, and aren’t able to pick up a call from the 911 dispatcher when they call back.

Pitkin County dispatch centre director Brett Loeb said Apple had told him the company was working on a fix for the issue that was due in the first quarter of 2023.

In October the Wall Street Journal reported that a 911 call centre in Ohio had received at least six automated emergency calls from people on rollercoaster rides.