Future Tense

Florida Woman’s Car Turned Her in for a Hit-and-Run

The car’s automatic emergency system connected the driver with 911.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

From self-driving autopilot to fancy virtual assistants, new car technology is changing our relationship with the automobile. Cars can park for you, cue up your favorite music, and apparently, turn you into the police.

On Monday, a Florida woman was arrested in a hit-and-run incident, according to local media. The woman, Cathy Burnstein, fled the scene after she allegedly rear-ended Anna Preston, who was taken to the hospital with back injuries. Shortly after Preston reported the accident to the police, a local 911 operator received an automated call from Burnstein’s Ford Focus’ crash-notification system. Burnstein continually denied being in an accident, but the dispatcher wasn’t buying it.


“I did not hit anyone,” Burnstein said during the 911 call.

The dispatcher responded: “Well, why did your car call us saying that you’d been involved in an accident then?”


Burnstein didn’t have a good answer for that, and ultimately, she admitted to the hit-and-run. The car system that helped implicate her is called 911 Assist, and it’s been integrated into most Ford vehicles since 2010. If an airbag is deployed, as Burnstein’s was, the system automatically calls 911 through the driver’s Bluetooth-paired phone. Burnstein would have had to set up the program herself—a choice she’s probably regretting now.

Built-in cellular-connected systems aren’t new—GM launched OnStar nearly 20 years ago—but they’re becoming more ubiquitous. And they might even become a mandatory safety features in all U.S. cars soon, following the European Parliament’s decision in April requiring all cars to have an automated emergency service by 2018.

This could make car accidents less deadly by getting ambulances to the scene quicker. But as Slate’s Will Oremus pointed out about Tesla’s autopilot, some iterations of the new car-tech wave could be riskier than they’re worth.