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Butt dialing accidentally causes half of wireless 911 calls

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Butt dialing seems to be just another fixture of our technology-obsessed lives. While typically humorous, butt dialing has now become a serious threat to public health, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly reported after visiting 911 call centers in New York and Anchorage that approximately 70 percent of calls come from wireless numbers. Of the number of wireless 911 calls made, half of the cases were called by accident, either by buttons being pressed when phones are in pockets or bags.

O'Rielly says that butt dialing can negatively affect the emergency system, crowding up the lines when potential life-threatening calls may need attending to.

"This is a huge waste of resources, raises the cost of providing 911 services, depletes [public safety answering points] morale, and increases the risk that legitimate 911 calls— and first responders— will be delayed," O'Rielly writes.

911 emergency call center operators often hear muffled conversations and loud noises, which can easily be mistaken for a case where someone is in danger.

According to the data, approximately 84 million calls are made to 911 each year. Are the fake 911 calls blamed solely on butt dialing?

Children who play with phones could make some accidental 911 calls, especially since federal regulations make all wireless phones equipped to make emergency calls. A report from the Tennessee Emergency Communications Board discovered that one kid made 84 calls in one night to 911, blocking the call center for real-life emergencies.

Last spring, two men were recorded talking about a breaking into a car that contained drugs when they accidentally butt dialed 911. The men were then arrested. Whoops. 

In a case where Breaking Bad went wrong, a 911 operator stayed on line for half an hour to hear a mother and son talk about cooking meth at home and selling it after they accidentally butt dialed the emergency service.

So sometimes butt dialing has proved to be helpful to the police. Yet most of the time, it's just an inconvenience to both parties.  

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