The European Commission is pushing forward with legislation to put automatic emergency call systems into new cars by 2015.
An original call for voluntary adoption of the technology, known as eCall, generated little interest - but Brussels says the potential life-saving benefits are too great to abandon the scheme.
The eCall system automatically triggers a call to the emergency services in the event of a serious crash, ensuring help for car drivers and occupants as quickly as possible even if they are in no state to dial for help themselves.
The Commission estimates the cost of installing the system at less than £90 per car.
But since unveiling the technology - developed with the help of EU research funding - the Commission says the reaction from industry has been "very slow".
A statement said: The Commission has decided to take legislative action to introduce eCall because voluntary deployment has been insufficient.
EU Commissioner for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes told Euro-MPs that mandatory introduction was the answer. The Commission has formally adopted a recommendation
calling on member states to make sure that eCalls will be processed by mobile network operators and given the same service level as any other 112 calls – i.e. that they will be prioritised and free.
"Member states need to identify the emergency call response centres that will receive the eCalls, and ensure that mobile operators are implementing the eCall flag in their networks that allows them to distinguish eCalls from other emergency calls," Kroes said.
The Commission has set a target of fitting the automatic dial-up technology into all new models of cars by 2015, estimating that, the move will save "several hundred" lives in Europe a year by speeding the arrival time of emergency services to car crashes by as much as 50 per cent, especially in remote areas.
The system is designed to dial 112 in the event of a crash and transmit a data message with the accident details - the time of the incident, the position of the crash and the direction of travel, which could be crucial for accidents on motorways or in tunnels. It would also open a voice channel so the response centre could attempt to communicate with the vehicle occupants.
A Commission statement said: "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".
Currently, only 0.7 per cent of all passenger vehicles in the EU are equipped with proprietary automatic emergency call systems, with numbers barely rising.
The Commission originally wanted eCall to be rolled out voluntarily across Europe by 2009, but adoption has been very slow.