This month, the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union that is responsible for proposing legislation and implements decisions, took its first measures to ensure that by 2015 cars can dial emergency services for passengers when a serious accident occurs by using machine-to-machine (M2M) technology.
The Commission wants the eCall system to be fitted to all new models of cars and light vehicles by 2015. eCall automatically dials Europe's single emergency number-112- in the event of a serious accident and communicates the vehicle's location to the emergency services.
The system sends details of the accident to the rescue services, including the time of incident, the accurate position of the crashed vehicle and the direction of travel (most important on motorways and in tunnels). An eCall can also be triggered manually by pushing a button in the car, for example by a witness to a serious accident, according to the Commission.
The eCall system is estimated to cost less than $135 per new car to install. To rule out privacy concerns, the eCall system does not allow the tracking of vehicles because it 'sleeps' and does not send any signals until it is activated by a crash, says the Commission.
Currently, only 0.7 % of all passenger vehicles in the EU are equipped with automatic emergency call systems.
The Commission decided to take legislative action to introduce eCall because voluntary deployment has been insufficient. The Commission had called for eCall to be rolled out voluntarily across Europe by 2009 but adoption has been very slow, leading to more drastic measures.
The Commission's aim is for a fully functional eCall service to be in place all over the European Union (as well as Croatia, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland) by 2015.
It is estimated that the technology speeds up the arrival of emergency teams by an estimated 40% in urban areas and 50% in rural areas. Once widely deployed, the Commission predicts that eCall will save several hundred lives in Europe every year, and reduce the severity of injuries and trauma in tens of thousands of cases.
The Recommendation urges every Member State to ensure that mobile operators treat calls from eCall devices like other 112 calls – i.e. give priority to them and do not charge for them. The Recommendation also indicates that Member States should ensure that mobile operators put in place systems to identify eCalls so that they can be routed to an emergency service call centre equipped to handle them.