Commission issues ultimatum over crash-alert system
Car manufacturers, telecoms operators and public authorities in Europe may be forced to implement a system that automatically alerts emergency services to road accidents if they do not introduce it voluntarily.
The European Commission has warned EU member states that if no significant progress is made in rolling out eCall by the end of 2009 it could propose regulatory measures "to make this life-saving technology available all over Europe as soon as possible".
The eCall system automatically dials 112, the pan-European emergency number, when a car has a serious accident and sends its location to the nearest emergency service, which must be capable of processing the minimum set of data even when voice communication is not possible. The system could cut response times by 40-50 per cent depending on the location.
In 2008, more than 1.2 million accidents on Europe's roads caused around 39,000 deaths and more than 1.7 million injuries. The Commission says eCall could save 2500 lives a year when fully deployed and mitigate the severity of tens of thousands of injuries.
Standards have been developed and technology trials undertaken, but deployment is voluntary and eCall is not yet operational in any country. Fifteen EU members have signed an agreement to prepare phone networks and emergency services for rollout of the system in cars, along with non-members Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. Six more have expressed willingness to sign. However, six others (Denmark, France, Ireland, Latvia, Malta and the UK) have so far refused to do so. The Commission says this is because of cost concerns.
Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media, declared: "At EU level, thanks in particular to the continued support of the European Parliament, we have done our part of the job: all the relevant core standards for making eCall possible are in place. Europeans should not have to wait any longer for a system that could save their lives just because their governments fail to act. I want to see the first eCall cars on our roads next year. If the eCall roll-out does not accelerate, the Commission stands ready to set out clear rules obliging governments, industry and emergency services to respond."
The single European emergency number 112 can be dialled from fixed or mobile phones throughout the European Union. The next stage is a location-enhanced version, E112, in which the telecoms operator transmits the caller's location information to the emergency centre, which must be capable of processing it. E112 is not yet working properly in some countries for calls made from mobile phones. eCall builds on E112, requiring emergency centres to be able to deal with automated data transmissions from an in-vehicle device as well as setting up a voice connection for communication with any car occupant who is capable of responding.
European Commission fact sheet on eCall: