Is Apple’s accident alert good enough?

iPhone 14 introduced crash detection, where the device automatically will call emergency services if the user is subjected to an accident. Google Pixel does the same. In short, the phone uses its sensors to detect typical crash scenarios, and if the user does not cancel the alert within a set time, an automatic call will be placed to 911, 112, or similar services. The feature has most likely already saved several lives, including that of a motorcyclist



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But does it really work as advertised? Well, WSJ had some mixed results when testing the feature. It seems that it works fine, provided that the phone could figure out that the user was actually in a driving car. In the test, phones placed in a non-moving car that was T-boned did not trigger emergency service alerts. Conversely, the phone may switch on the function at inappropriate times, and a lot of stories are surfacing about automatic emergency calls being triggered by innocuous activities like skiing, or riding a roller coaster. And since users in those situations often have their phones deep in their pockets and don't answer then the emergency services call back, unnecessary emergency responses are triggered. That means that resources that could be used for real emergencies are wasted.


Motorcycling is not like driving a car, and the dangers are different. Getting rammed from behind or T-boned at an intersection is often a life-threatening accident. Even low-speed slides out of a turn can be serious. On the other hand, we accept (and enjoy) more G-forces than car drivers do, especially those of us who are going off-road. If skiers trigger accident alerts, wouldn't enduro riders do the same? And many of us like to tuck our phone away while we ride to avoid disturbances, so it's likely that we won't notice the alert.


In the EU, eCall has been mandatory since 2018, and works more or less in the same way. At Aware Moto, we implement a slight variation of this in our Core module. It is our belief that sensors placed on the vehicle are better suited to detect and report accidents than those placed at a random place in the vehicle or in its occupants' pockets. While a phone has to guess where it is at all times, we can make the assumption that hard G-forces experienced by the vehicle means that a crash has occurred. And on a motorcycle, we can interpret what happens afterwards as well. Is the bike getting picked up? Is the engine killed? All of this is important information both for the algorithm trying to figure out what happened, and the emergency response services.

It is clear that accident detection on personal devices are a great addition to the safety of road users, and that it will save lives. But a vehicle-centric solution will be much better equipped to understand context, and a better choice.

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