Thanks to Smartphones, 20 Percent of San Francisco’s 911 Calls are Butt Dials

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Back in the ancient days of landlines, it was pretty hard to make an accidental phone call. The invention of cell phones, however, ushered in the age of the accidental phone call, affectionately dubbed the “butt dial.” In the case of older cell phones with buttons, the occasional pocket dial was pretty much unavoidable, since there weren’t layers of passwords and fingerprint identifications to work through before a call could be placed.

For the most part, the lock screens on today’s smartphones have reduced the number of inadvertent calls we place. But there’s still one number we can always call without first unlocking our phones: 911.

According to Slate, smartphones have drastically increased the number of unintentional emergency phone calls we make—and it’s a huge problem for 911 dispatchers. 

San Francisco, for instance, has seen a 28 percent increase in 911 calls since 2011. An investigation by Google found that the surge in calls was due not to crime, but to butt dials. In fact, about 20 percent of all emergency calls in the city last year were accidental. 

For already-overworked 911 dispatchers, figuring out whether calls are accidental is a laborious and frustrating task. Almost 40 percent of the employees at one San Francisco call center identified accidental calls—which each take approximately one minute and 14 seconds to follow up on—as the biggest “pain point” of their job. For emergency dispatchers, unintended calls are a huge waste of time and resources, and make it harder to respond to real emergencies.

Fortunately, there are a number of possible solutions to the butt dialing epidemic. In the UK, for instance, emergency call centers require callers to press “55” if the call is intentional. FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly has also suggested wireless providers send a text to inadvertent 911 dialers. But until a solution is adopted, butt dials will continue to be a huge pain in the, well, butt for emergency dispatchers.

[h/t: Slate]