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Bottom Line: Google Study Confirms 911 'Butt Dialing' Is a Serious Problem

by James Eng /

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A study by Google researchers of 911 calls in San Francisco confirms that it’s way too easy to accidentally dial for help from your rear end.

The researchers analyzed the past few years of 911 calls fielded by the city’s Department of Emergency Management to try to determine why the volume of such calls was increasing. They noted that many of those calls were coded as “unknown” or “miscellaneous.” "The majority of incidents under both of these codes were accidental dials," the researchers wrote.

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The researchers figured that about one of every five calls to emergency services could be due to "accidental dials."

The team further examined 911 calls made strictly from wireless phones. It turned out that 30 percent of them were accidental dials — also known as “pocket dialing” or “butt dialing,” which happens when you accidentally sit on your phone or bump it while it’s in your pocket or handbag.

Emergency dispatchers surveyed in the study said such calls were a big time suck. Many said having to call back the number after hearing no voice on the other end was their “largest pain point.”

The researchers recommended that the city streamline the callback process by either automating the voicemail message left by the dispatcher or sending an automated text to the caller.

Related: More Than a Quarter of U.S. Crashes Involve Cellphone Use: Study

San Francisco is hardly alone. The Federal Communications has acknowledged that pocket dialing is a growing problem, given that more than 90 percent of Americans now own a cellphone. Commission regulations require that all wireless phones be able to dial 911 as long as the phone has battery power.

Related: Boundaries Shift on Rude Smartphone Use

FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly, in a blog post last year, referred to pocket dialing 911 as a huge waste of resources and said it increases the risk that response to legitimate emergency calls will be delayed.

"I’m confident that if consumers realize that they are putting their friends, neighbors, and loved ones at greater risk, then they will change their practices," he wrote.

So what can you do to reduce the risk of accidentally calling 911? The FCC recommends locking your keypad or turning off 911 autodial if your phone has such a feature.

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