Cars that call for help in the event of a road traffic accident. It’s not a new idea. The Ford SYNC emergency assistance feature has been available for over a year, and GM’s OnStar has been around longer than that.
But in Europe, this add-on feature is gaining a lot of attention. In fact, the European Commission wants to make emergency assist technology mandatory by 2015 on all passenger cars and light duty vehicles sold in the EU.
The “eCall” system will automatically dial 112—Europe’s emergency number—in the event of a serious accident, where the driver may be unconscious or unable to make a phone call themselves. It communicates the vehicle’s location to emergency services, as well the time of the incident and the direction of travel (important on highways and in tunnels).
eCall can also be triggered manually by pushing a button in the car, for example by a witness to a serious accident.
In many ways the eCall system closely resembles Ford’s SYNC 911 Assist, which is triggered by the deployment of airbags or a fuel pump shutoff. A call—which includes GPS coordinates—is automatically placed through the driver’s cell phone to emergency services. When the call is answered, SYNC opens up a microphone to allow those inside the car to communicate hands-free with the 911 operator.
GM’s OnStar offers similar support, but with an extra step. Motion sensors alert OnStar in the event of a crash, but an OnStar assistant has to place the 911 call for you.
It’s hoped that the new EU mandate will dramatically reduce the number of road traffic fatalities throughout Europe. Last year, 28,000 people were killed and 1.5 million were injured on EU roads.
Initial estimates suggest that eCall will speed up emergency response times by 40 percent in urban areas and 50 percent in the countryside, and could save up to 2,500 lives a year.
In addition to the road safety benefits, eCall could also have a significant impact on reducing the congestion caused by traffic accidents and on reducing secondary accidents caused by unsecured accident sites.
Auto manufacturers and related industries could benefit greatly from the mandate too. The technologies, components and services used in different aspects of eCall, including in-vehicle systems, wireless data delivery, and public safety answering point systems, could provide new business opportunities, while eCall tech could be repurposed for added value services like the tracking of stolen cars.
The EU expects to save to €20 billion annually if all cars are equipped with the eCall system. Russia is developing a similar system which is based on eCall standards.