iPhone 14 crash detection is inadvertently triggering on roller coasters

Shawn Knight

Posts: 14,662   +175
Staff member
In brief: Over a million hours of crash data both in the real world and the lab seemingly wasn't enough to iron out all of the wrinkles in a prominent feature on Apple's latest smartphone.

Crash detection debuted as one of a handful of new features on the iPhone 14 family and new Apple Watches in September. The feature utilizes an improved gyroscope, a new g-force accelerometer, microphones, GPS, barometer and an advanced algorithm to detect if you've been in a crash and automatically notify emergency services and your emergency contacts. If you are unconscious, your device will play an audio message for 911 and supply them with your latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates.

False positives have been causing headaches for both emergency service workers and users alike. The Warren County Communications Center near Kings Island amusement park outside Cincinnati has received half a dozen false alarms from riders since the new phones went on sale last month. According to The Wall Street Journal, the Joker roller coaster at Six Flags Great America near Chicago has also triggered false positives.

A spokesperson told the publication the feature is extremely accurate in detecting severe crashes, adding that Apple optimized it to minimize false positives. The spokesperson noted that Apple will continue to improve the feature moving forward.

In another incident, Douglas Sonders' iPhone 14 Pro Max flew off his motorcycle during a Saturday cruise with some friends in New York City. Assuming the phone was long gone, he headed to a local Apple Store to replace it. But the phone wasn't dead, and had instead called emergency services and notified his emergency contacts that a crash had been detected.

Last month, one YouTuber put the feature to the test by strapping an iPhone 14 Pro to the headset of a car and sending it careening into stationary targets. It worked, but they could have just as easily went to an amusement park to test the feature.

Inadvertent triggers are more than just a nuisance. Wasting resources on false alarms could slow response times for actual emergencies and put lives in danger.

Image credit: Pixabay

Permalink to story.



Posts: 924   +1,446

How did no one think of this? What about if the phone is thrown across the room?
That wouldn't trigger a false positive because you'd need to be traveling at speed for enough time before the phone would believe it was in a moving vehicle. A more likely false positive is if a phone was thrown out of a moving vehicle (especially into a stationary object). Throwing a phone off a cliff might work as well because you're likely to get enough stable speed for enough time while also creating enough noise + impact to trigger a false positive. However that's easily solvable by using the accelerometer to determine whether the phone is mostly falling and all lateral acceleration was over a very short time.

I think the roller coaster scenario is easy enough to solve too just by checking if the crazy movement exists in a small geographical area to automatically create a geofenced area across multiple phones, and end up with a much longer warning period before dialing 911 if that is the case. This would work for roller coasters, race tracks, bumper cars, go-karts, and pretty much any safe yet high velocity change situation (since they're all in controlled scenarios with an operator).


Posts: 1,024   +1,389

How did no one think of this? What about if the phone is thrown across the room?

Indeed and your great power of observation is amazing!!

Because 99.9999% of the people are either on a roller coaster or busy throwing their phones across the room....


Posts: 1,435   +997
While the intention of Apple is good, this is a bad idea on the premise alone. Apple needs to think through things better before pushing them on users.