If you’re thinking about letting a younger child use an iPhone, you might worry about them accidentally calling 911. Due to federal law, you can’t disable emergency calls completely, but there are ways to reduce your chances of dialing 911 accidentally. Here’s how—and why 911 is required on cell phones to begin with.
Why All Cell Phones Are Required to Allow Dialing 911
According to United States federal law (47 CFR § 9.10), every cellular phone sold in the U.S. must be able to call 911, even if the calling phone is not subscribed to the closest available wireless network. That means even phones linked to the wrong carrier in the region or those with no SIM card can dial 911 and reach a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP), such as a local emergency call center.
The reason for the rule is so anyone can reach 911 with ease from any cell phone—even an older phone that doesn’t have an active cellular plan. The goal is to make 911 a universal emergency service for the entire U.S. Many other countries have similar rules as well for their emergency services.
Tips to Reduce Accidental Emergency Misdials on an iPhone
Due to federal 911 requirements, you cannot disable the Phone app on an iPhone, even using Screen Time because then it would be impossible to dial 911 using the iPhone. But there are some techniques you can use to reduce accidental 911 calls, especially if you let a younger child use your iPhone for entertainment.
Try Airplane Mode with Wi-Fi
When an iPhone is in Airplane Mode, it cannot make any outgoing calls, including emergency ones. Airplane Mode can easily be activated using its Control Center shortcut or in Settings > Airplane Mode.
Few people know this, but once an iPhone is in Airplane Mode, you can also enable Wi-Fi. That means you could turn on Airplane mode, then enable Wi-Fi and hand the iPhone to a child who can then use the iPhone to play networked games or watch streaming media.
Whenever you’re done—or if you need to make an emergency call—just turn Airplane mode off again. If you try to make an emergency call with Airplane Mode enabled, your iPhone will remind you to turn Airplane Mode off first.
Disable Emergency SOS
Starting with iOS 11, iPhones include a feature called “Emergency SOS” that allows quick access to emergency services if you press a combination of certain buttons on your device. Unfortunately, it’s easy to hit these buttons by accident—or have them pressed while the phone is in a pocket or a purse. That also means a kid holding your iPhone could trigger them accidentally without realizing it.
Luckily, it’s easy to disable Emergency SOS in Settings. First, open “Settings,” then tap “Emergency SOS.”
In the “Emergency SOS” settings, turn off the switches beside “Call With Side Button” and “Auto Call.”
After that, exit “Settings,” and you (or whoever is using your phone) will be far less likely to accidentally call 911.
Talk to Your Kids About 911
Finally, if you’re letting a child use your iPhone—perhaps an older model you no longer need—it’s important to talk to your kids about what 911 is and how to use it. The site Verywell Family lists several good tips for introducing the concept to children aged 3 and older.
With older children, it’s important to explain the importance of only calling 911 in an emergency, and that if you mistakenly call 911, to stay on the line and tell the 911 center there is no emergency. That way, resources are not wasted sending an unnecessary emergency response to your location. But kids should also feel safe knowing that help is only a quick call away—on any cell phone—if they need it.