eCall-ing Europe

The European Parliament has voted that all new cars should be fitted with a system which automatically calls the emergency services with details of road traffic accidents from 2009.

The European Parliament has voted that all new cars from 2009 should be fitted with a system which automatically calls the emergency services with details of road traffic accidents.

Around 40,000 people are killed on European roads every year, with more than 3.3 million sustaining injuries. This takes an economic as well as emotional toll, estimated to be as high as €180 billion.

The eCall initiative aims for all new cars to be fitted with eCall, which will immediately alert the emergency services of an accident. It will provide a precise location using global positioning (GPS), significantly reducing response times. The system, however, relies upon the adoption of 112 as the EU-wide emergency number, which would ensure full interoperability in all Member States.

While commercial interest in eCall has been very high, some Member States have so far been slow to put their weight behind it. The Parliament’s support will give eCall a significant boost. The system is expected to cut road traffic injuries by around 15 per cent, and fatalities by up to 10 per cent, once in place. While some luxury models already offer systems similar to eCall, this vote will spread improved driver safety to all drivers.

The system will transmit geographical data and call the emergency services directly with information. The initiative estimates that response times alone will be cut by up to 50 per cent in rural areas, and 40 per cent in urban areas. The eCall system will also open a line directly to the emergency services, operated automatically on impact, or it can be used manually. The voice connection is important as it can provide further details of the nature of the accident, preparing the emergency teams.

European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) spokesperson Alfredo Filippone said, ‘There are some issues still to be resolved with eCall. Member States have to change their emergency service codes to 112. Also, with eCall being an automatic signal, call centres will need to be able to handle these kinds of signals at emergency centres. There will be an increased volume of calls and of technical equipment at emergency call centres. This has to happen all over the union.

‘We also need to invest more money to make the scheme more appealing, but this would be a common venture. The scheme should bring in significant savings, and if so, insurers would want to participate. Technically, the scheme is not too complicated, requiring a link between GSM and GPS technologies,’ said Mr Filippone.

In fact, the 112 system would need to be updated to what is provisionally known as E112. From land lines, calls automatically divert to local emergency call centres. However, with mobile phones this may not happen. E112 will factor in location, making emergency calls more, rather than less specific. This will be essential for the smooth working of eCall, as speed of response time is a priority for the project.

ECall has become the focus for the European Commission’s eSafety initiative, launched in July 2005 by Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding. The project aims to reduce by almost 20,000 the number of deaths in the EU due to driving by 2010. ‘eCall is a good example of how we can increase the quality of life of European citizens through innovation and use of new technologies,’ she said.

The Parliament’s vote came on the recommendation of UK rapporteur, MEP Gary Titley (PES), who presented a comprehensive rundown of how far eCall has come, and what Member States need to do in order to make the 2009 introduction a reality.

The timetable to introduction expects working prototypes to be introduced later this year, with full-scale trials and early adoption as soon as 2007.