Apple responds to why junkyard crash tests don’t always trigger iPhones’ Crash Detection

With the announcement of the iPhone 14 lineup, Apple announced that its new devices are outfitted with sensors and tech that can detect when a user has been in a car crash. The iPhone will then prompt to dial emergency services and will automatically dial if the user doesn’t respond.

iPhone 14 Pro Max
iPhone 14 Pro Max

The Wall Street Journal’s Joanna Stern collaborated with a demolition derby driver in Michigan to test whether they could make the new iPhone trigger the safety feature.

An iPhone 14, a Google Pixel were placed in the derby car, and an Apple Watch Ultra was strapped to the driver’s wrist. An iPhone 14 Pro Max and a Pixel 6 were placed in a stationary junk vehicle that was going to be crashed into. The test involved driving a derby vehicle (driven by a professional derby driver) into the parked car and see which devices triggered Crash detection.

After crashing the vehicles and seeing mixed results from iPhones and Pixels, The Wall Street Journal reached out to Apple for comment.

When I contacted Apple with the results, a company spokesman said that the testing conditions in the junkyard didn’t provide enough signals to the iPhone to trigger the feature in the stopped cars.

For Crash Detection to work, it needs to first detect that the device is inside a moving vehicle. WSJ outlines that an algorithm takes several factors into account for the feature to work. Motion sensors detect sudden changes in motion, Microphones can detect loud sounds such as the impact of the crash, the barometer can detect changes in air pressure when airbags are deployed, GPS readings can detect sudden decelerations in a moving vehicle (or detect that it is in a vehicle at all), and CarPlay and Bluetooth status can better signal whether the device is actually in a vehicle.

Apple responds to why junkyard crash tests don’t always trigger iPhones’ Crash Detection

Crash detection features in both Google and Apple are not able to detect all types of crashes. There’s even a disclaimer right under the Crash Detection setting on new iPhones saying exactly that. In all cases, however, the devices need to first be able to detect that it is in a moving vehicle, involving some or all the signals mentioned above.

We hope nobody ever needs to use a crash detecting feature on their smartphones but features like these have the potential to save lives in the event of a crash.

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