This was quite the read over the weekend: the Wall Street Journal reported that the car crash detection feature built into the new iPhone 14/14 Pro and Apple Watches is sensitive enough to be set off by a roller coaster.
It happened to a family at Kings Island, an amusement park in Ohio. After only two days on the job, the iPhone 14 Pro dispatched emergency services when the device sensed Sara White, the person profiled in the WSJ piece, suddenly stop after flying through the air at 50 miles per hour on the Mystic Timbers rollercoaster. When the ride was over, White faced a lock screen populated with notifications indicating her phone had called for help.
Rollercoasters usually have a brake run that stops the coaster abruptly before it’s slowed down to enter back into the loading area. “Many parks will advertise the acceleration, but they don’t say you are going to go from 40 mph to 0 at the end of the rides,” said John Stevenson, an expert coaster rider interviewed by the WSJ. If you look at the YouTube video for Mystic Timbers, it seems like a fast and bumpy ride, with one intense stop at the end before it wheels back into a covered area.
Emergency dispatchers aren’t strangers to false alarms caused by smartphone misuse. I’ve accidentally called in myself by pressing the power button too many times on a OnePlus device—you used to be able to hit the power button five times to call for help. When I picked up the phone, the Oregon state emergency dispatcher scolded me to turn off the ability because it was wasting resources.
At the very least, White proved to us in a real-world scenario that the iPhone 14 Pro’s car crash detection works. If you want to creep yourself out, you can listen to the automated message that Apple uses to contact dispatchers—it’s a vintage Siri voice relaying the location of the device associated with the crash. But this is also a reminder that algorithms are still a work in progress. The Warren County Communications Center, which serves the Kings Island theme park area, gave the WSJ access to six other iPhone 14-made crash-detection calls.
What might help Apple here is a “roller coaster” mode, which I saw as a meme floating around when the story was published on Sunday. Just kidding—instead, try turning the phone off before you get on a ride or switch to Airplane Mode. Also, make sure it’s properly secured.