Cars should automatically call for help after crashes, EU parliament says

Voluntary adoption has been slow, so all new cars in Europe should be fitted with an eCall devices by 2015

By 2015, the European Parliament wants all new cars to automatically alert emergency services in case of a crash, a service known as eCall.

The Parliament adopted a resolution to this effect in a show of hands on Tuesday, and urged the European Commission to make eCall law.

The introduction of eCall, designed to automatically call the European emergency number 112 when a car crashes, would enable rescue services to arrive faster, saving up to 2,500 lives a year and reducing the severity of injuries by 10 to 15 percent, according to the European Parliament.

The call could be triggered by on-board sensors such as those in the airbag detecting a crash, or by any car occupant pushing a button.

The eCall systems will also use satellites and mobile telephony caller location to determine the location of the crashed car. Based on the location, eCall will contact the nearest emergency center, and will also send a minimum set of data (MSD) that includes time, the direction in which the vehicle was travelling, vehicle identification, an indication if eCall was automatically or manually triggered and information about a possible service provider. Sending the extra data is likely to reduce misunderstanding and stress and helps to eliminate language barriers between the vehicle occupants and the operator, said the parliament.

The system must not be used to monitor a person's movements or determine his or her location unless that person has been involved in an accident, the parliament said.

The idea for eCall has been floating around since 2003, and the European Commission signed a deal with car makers and technology companies in 2005 to equip new cars with eCall from 2009. However, voluntary adoption has failed and to date only 0.4 percent of European cars are fitted with the system, the parliament said. That is why Members of the European Parliament urged the European Commission to table legislation to make eCall mandatory, and to extend the system to other vehicles such as buses, motorcycles and trucks in the future.

The MEPs said the service should be free of charge to all drivers in Europe. An eCall device should cost around €100 (US$125) when implemented in all vehicles, according to a document on the website of the European Commission. The Commission expected that eCall can also be exploited commercially, for instance for advanced insurance schemes, stolen vehicle tracking and electronic road tolls.

The full deployment of eCall requires cooperation between public authorities, car companies and mobile phone operators. If eCall becomes mandatory the car manufacturers will have to build it into every new car, and member states will have to upgrade their emergency call systems to comply with the eCall standards. Not all the member states have agreed to use the system and those who did are still in the process of implementing it.

Loek covers all things tech for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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