ROSEVILLE (AP) -- A speed-dialing feature on cellular phones is being blamed for hundreds of thousands of false 911 calls in Minnesota every year, mistakes that tie up dispatchers and jeopardize people with real emergencies.
Minnesota Department of Public Safety officials say about 40 percent of the 810,000 911 calls last year from wireless phones to the State Patrol were accidental. In 2000, the number was 30 percent.
And for some reason a large number of them happen at Minnesota Vikings games, when tucked-away phones get bumped, activating the automatic 911 dialing feature. Phone owners often can't hear above all the shouting and cheering that there's a 911 dispatcher on the line, asking if they need help or are being assaulted.
It happens so often at Vikings games, in fact, that the State Patrol appealed Friday, in anticipation of the upcoming season, for people to read their phone manuals and disable their automatic 911 dialing or lock up their keypads when they're at the game.
Many phones manufactured up to two years ago are programmed to speed-dial 911 by simply pressing either the 9 or 1 keys.
It takes dispatchers three to four times longer to clear unintentional calls than to answer a legitimate emergency.
"With the unintentional calls, the dispatchers sit on the phone a long time just figuring out what's going on," Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Cynthia Lehman said. "It could be a domestic assault and the victim is trying to whisper into the phone. They just don't know."
Just last month, a 911 dispatcher heard only mumbling and indistinguishable noises on a particular call. A busy dispatcher might have figured it was another accidental wireless call and hung up, said State Patrol Capt. Michelle Tuchner.
But this dispatcher stayed on the phone, kept asking questions and began to realize that it was someone who needed help but couldn't speak. It turned out that a woman was choking on a sandwich in her car in St. Paul. The woman was saved and the dispatcher will receive an award for lifesaving.
It's not just in Minnesota. Nationwide, unintentional 911 calls are at about 40 percent, too, she said.
Wireless phone manufacturers have abandoned the 911 auto dial feature. And many of the companies will upgrade software in older phones for free.
If you're checking whether your phone has the auto dial or if you accidentally dial 911, don't hang up, said Dean Polkow, president of the state Wireless Foundation board.
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