Could Your Smartphone Contribute to Your Death?

Mike Halsey MVP
Jul 7, 2011
Updated • Dec 1, 2012

Smartphones are wonderful things that have helped people do so much more, be so much more productive and keep in touch with friends and family.  Nobody will doubt the benefits of the smartphone for these tasks.  What would happen though if you were to be in an accident, or incapacitated in some way.  Could your smartphone be a barrier to bringing help and assistance?

Modern smartphones have lock screens that swipe in one way or another.  Sometimes too they will have a pin unlock.  Now these pin unlock screens by law have to include a button to allow you to make an emergency call, 999, 911 or 112, without physically having to unlock the handset.  But what about people who don't have a pin code on their phone?

Modern smartphones are quite complex, and easily customisable.  After you've used a smartphone for a period you'll be completely comfortable with where things are and how you access them.  For people who have recently bought their phone, or just got an upgrade on their contract, this isn't always the case though.  A friend of mine only yesterday had to make an emergency call, fortunately not a critical one, and found he had to swipe up the lock screen on his brand new Windows Phone, go into the People hub and then find the small icon that would bring up the call pad to allow him to make the call.  This took valuable time.  He wasn't familiar with the handset though as he'd only had it for a day.

With a traditional mobile phone you would just have a phone book of the people you like to call and who call you.  On a smartphone though there can be contacts from Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and more in your list, and finding the appropriate person to call can prove difficult or even sometimes impossible.

Modern smartphones are set up in such a way as the lock screen will provide you with useful information such as the time, date and any forthcoming appointments you may have.  They're not set up to show you ICE numbers though.  What's more PIN screens, while allowing you access to make emergency calls, won't allow you to call a next of kin, spouse or housemate in the event that you are hospitalised.

This all brings me back to traditional mobile phones.  These too came with optional pin codes that would have prevented you from accessing the contacts list, though many would have given the option to bring up owner information.  Here you could put a valuable second contact number for the emergency services.

I've spoken before about smartphone security, and how it needs to be brought front and centre of the smartphone experience to keep our data and personal information safe.  However there also needs to exist a way to keep us safe and protected in the event that a disaster occurs.

This is something that the main mobile OS manufacturers, Apple, Google, RIM and Microsoft need to consider more as they build more and more security into our handsets by default.  These updates, which are pretty much inevitable, will make it even harder for the emergency services to access our contacts information, or for strangers who may not have a phone of their own or be unfamiliar with your phone's operating system, to use yours to make an emergency call.

Overall I'd like to think that my phone is set up to allow this, I use a Windows Phone.  As things stand though, there is no way at all for me to provide an ICE contact to people without leaving the handset permanently unlocked.  So it seems that I'm damned if I do, and doomed if I don't!


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  1. cveeee said on April 11, 2012 at 12:29 am

    I’m 100% with you – I’ve thought this dilema out so many times. Got phone as a gift…was reluctant to make the change. But, suppose I was being attacked and wanted to “feel” 911 buttons like I used to be able to. Can’t. Gotta swipe to unlock, go to phone, go to keypad, dial 911+ call. I’ll have to try out one of those apps, but from why I have tried so far they’ve gone thru safari and I still need to press the screen to “confirm” the call! Totally needs to be a button on the side or something…

  2. Rahul Aggarwal said on July 14, 2011 at 7:06 am

    You have rightly pointed out the flaws in the smarphone technology. I completely agree with you that the OS must be more refined to be used by all kinds of people. After all, we don’t select only the elite classes of people to help us out during emergency situation, do we?

  3. Baxter Tocher said on July 10, 2011 at 6:43 pm

    It was a UK ambulance worker who came up with the concept of ICE, not the police.

  4. Ryan D. Lang said on July 7, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    Good article. I now have yet another reason to keep my cellphone that is not a smartphone. My Nook suits my purposes.

  5. oblongcircles said on July 7, 2011 at 7:16 pm
  6. Jan said on July 7, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    I have my ICE number as part of the locked screen wallpaper.

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