Apple devices send false crash alerts to Walworth County Sheriff’s Office

WALWORTH COUNTY — ELKHORN, Wis. — The new Apple Watch has a feature that can detect if you have been in a crash.

It’s great when it works like it’s supposed to, but it’s causing problems for officials in Walworth County. They received several false alerts just this week.

All you need to do is select airplane mode before you take part in a high-impact sport like skiing.

Otherwise, if you wipe out, it could dial 911 before you can stop it. The Walworth County Sheriff’s Office put out a post on Facebook explaining what happened.

If you have the following, it can detect severe car crashes:

  • iPhone 14
  • iPhone 14 Pro
  • Apple Watch Series 8
  • Apple Watch SE (Second Generation)
  • Apple Watch Ultra

But sudden stops during activities like skiing, sledding or operating ATVs is activating that motion sensor. Your device will vibrate and give you an audible alert, then call 911 if you do not dismiss it in 20 seconds.
Captain Todd Neumann says Walworth County received more than 4,000 911 misdials or hang-ups last year. They are required by law to follow up with every single one. “I only have a certain amount of dispatchers on duty at a given time,” says Neumann.

Leaders at the Mountain Top Ski and Adventure Center at the Grand Geneva are alerting customers to adjust their settings before they hit the slopes.

“Here on the slopes people stop really crazily fast,” said Kyle Biallas, who put his Apple Watch on airplane mode. He says his smartphone almost dialed 911 while recently riding his four-wheeler. “It does happen a lot where it instantly brings up the dial 911 feature because I stopped so quickly,” said Biallas.

Skier Erin Lett says her Garmin Watch has a similar motion detector feature. “One time I rolled my ankle and I fell and I said ‘alerting emergency contact’ and it gives a count down,” said Lett.

In the end, law enforcement says to use your best judgment on when to turn off this feature, and to always keep your devices within reach.

Walworth County is not the only area to experience false alerts. According to the Colorado Sun, dispatchers in Summit County got 71 crash notifications in one weekend, and none of them involved an emergency.

Even without an emergency, the Colorado Sun reported the calls each take some time to sort out. If the skier whose phone sent the alert did not answer a return call, ski patrollers had to go to the location and check for a crash.

Walworth County said they had to do the same, they had to contact Ski Patrol and dispatch resources.

You can learn more about the crash detection feature and how to turn it off on Apple’s website.

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