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The Butt-Dialing Epidemic

Dean Belcher | Stone | Getty Images

"Did you call me?" "Um, no." "I just got the weirdest voicemail from your phone."

Accidental calls have become "an epidemic" to an already strained 911 emergency call system. Incoming calls to dispatchers have jumped 26 percent over a decade with the explosion of cellphones. While this can often be a good thing — crimes and accidents are reported quickly — there's a downside.

"For every 100 calls made to 911 this year in the U.S., roughly 40 of them were accidental, " The Daily reported.

That means two out of five calls to 911 are mistakes. The Daily said it all adds up to 100 million "illegitimate" calls, or one for every three Americans.

Yikes.

As if dispatchers don't have enough problems already dealing with ridiculous calls, like the California woman who dialed 911 to complain about her Burger King order.

"We're not going to come down there and enforce your Western Bacon Cheeseburger, " the dispatcher replied. No, but you ought to go down there and arrest her for being an idiot.

No one feels more like an idiot, though, than the accidental butt-dialer. I would venture to say the most culpable devices are those with tactile buttons and emergency call options, like RIM 's BlackBerry. This gives new meaning to Research in Motion.

The bigger the city, the bigger the butt-dialing problem. New York City has over 10, 000 butt-dials a day, according to The Daily's research. I blame Wall Street fat cats and fat-fingered flash crash traders.

The story reported some upside to the problem. Bad guys butt-dial, too. "In Scranton, Pa., local police got lucky when a man butt-dialed 911 while conducting a drug deal, leading to his arrest." If I was in a dangerous line of work, like dealing drugs, I'd probably have 911 on speed dial, too.

It's not only 911 dispatchers being assaulted by mistakes. A colleague once butt-dialed Kofi Annan, and much confusion ensued. I'm notorious on Facebook for several accidental "butt-posts" which look like "pppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppp".

But wasted calls to 911 could endanger the lives of those who really do need help. Dispatchers told The Daily these calls take up valuable time trying to figure out if there's a real emergency on the other end of the line. They're wondering, "Is someone silently calling for help, or is this another case of weird-muffled-sound-while-someone's-driving-listening-to-Bieber?"

In some places police officers are required to track down the source of a silent call, taking them away from responding to legitimate calls. Suggested solutions include locking one's smartphone or taking 911 off automatic speed dial. Great, unless you need to call 911 in an emergency but are too rattled to unlock the phone because you're freaking out.

More practical solutions:

1) Avoid sitting on your phone. I know, crazy, right?!

2) Secure your phone in a holster, even inside your purse (she says from her glass house).

3) Don't carry your phone with you everywhere. Added bonus — you'll enjoy life more, plus you won't walk/drive and text, leading to actual emergencies.

4) Order something other than a Western Bacon Cheeseburger at Burger King.

What solutions do you have? Put in the comments section below.

—By CNBC's Jane Wells
@janewells

Questions? Comments? Funny Stories? Email funnybusiness@cnbc.com

  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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