Apple iPhone 14 and 14 Plus
Apple

The updated car crash detector on the Apple Watch Series 8 and iPhone 14 knows when you’ve crashed and is happy to help, and won’t tell anyone if the accident is due to texting while driving.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, approximately half of severe car crashes occur in rural areas and about half also involve a single vehicle. So having something in your pocket or on your wrist that can get help for you is clearly more than a bit useful than asking Lassie to do it.

How Crash Detection Works

Both the iPhone 14 and Apple Watch Series 8 feature a microphone that detects impact noise, an accelerometer that senses rapid deceleration, and a barometer that can mark a shift in pressure consistent with an airbag. One of those sensors is bound to notice you’ve crashed if the other two are taking a coffee break.

Specifically, a 3-axis gyroscope and a high g-force accelerometer allows the watch to sample motion at about 3,000 times a second so it can sense the precise moment of impact, meaning it may know you’re in a car accident before you do. And it’s all underscored by an algorithm trained on millions of hours of crash data, according to Apple.

Apple Watch Series 8

Updated sensors in the Apple Watch Series 8 and Apple Watch Ultra enable crash detection.

So it can certainly tell the difference between a car accident and your annoying friend who slams the passenger door too hard. Once the crash is detected, an alarm will go off and vibrate. It will then connect to emergency services if the driver is unresponsive after a short countdown, at which point it will provide your location and notify the emergency contacts you’ve set up.

If you’re in trouble deep in the woods (and who among hasn’t been?), an Emergency SOS tool for iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro (available in November) also allows users to contact emergency services even if they’re outside the coverage area of a cellular carrier or Wi-Fi hotspot. It uses satellites.

Lives That Were Actually Saved

This is not the first device to contain this type of feature. Recent models of the Apple Watch contained a basic fall detection feature, and newer Google Pixel phones already have crash detection, with the ability to use motion sensors, your location, and nearby sounds to detect a severe crash and transmit it to emergency services via Android’s Emergency Location Service.

There are not a ton of stories online about the car crash detection feature saving lives, probably because people may be a bit embarrassed to admit that their phone saved them. But a few incidents exist. Last year a man posted about his experience accidentally rolling his Bobcat loader off a ledge on his property in Missouri.

He was knocked unconscious, and the Google Pixel was apparently thrown clear from the vehicle, so the crash detection feature activated and contacted 911. Help arrived quickly after.

It’s clearly a much more useful feature than scanning documents or something. When companies compete to have the best car crash detection on your phone, it seems like a general win for everyone.

Just leave your phone to the side if you’re driving a bumper car.

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Chason Gordon is a staff writer and editor for How-To Geek. His writing has previously appeared in Slate, Vice, Input, and The Globe and Mail, among others. He currently lives in San Antonio, but is on a month-to-month lease.
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