911 Assist is a safety system that’s initiated in only two scenarios: when an airbag is deployed or when the fuel pump shutoff is activated. In the event that one (or both) of those scenarios occurs, 911 Assist will connect you with a 911 operator — given that your Bluetooth phone is on and paired; this call bypasses any intermediary call centers.
Once a 911 operator answers, SYNC 911 Assist will inform the operator that an accident has occurred and then enables your phone’s microphone, thereby opening the line and allowing you (or any other vehicle occupants) to communicate the details of the situation.
In order for all of this to take place, the vehicle’s electrical system (including the battery), the mobile phone, and the wireless service provider’s signal must all be available. Since some of these systems may be damaged in an accident, it’s not an absolute guarantee that 911 Assist will work. Furthermore, the 911 Assist feature must be enabled and the mobile phone must be paired via Bluetooth in order for the feature to work properly.
The Motrolix Take
911 Assist is useful, but has a major downside, in our opinion. As I’ve personally witnessed, a mobile phone may become “dislodged” during an accident. Extreme forces that take place during a crash can even cause a mobile to be thrown out of a broken window or even break entirely after coming into contact with hard elements in the cabin. In other words, you mobile phone is the weakest link — and it’s one of the elements that is required for 911 Assist to work.
By contrast, systems offered by competitors, such as GM’s OnStar, integrate the phone feature into the vehicle itself. Doing so makes the phone feature more “protected”, making it less likely to be thrown out of a vehicle or even broken during a serious accident.
We hope Ford catches on to this and begins building cellular capability directly into its vehicles. Doing so would even allow ancillary benefits such as remote vehicle start via mobile applications.