Feature Article

June 20, 2012

Members of European Parliament Mandate eCall for New Cars by 2015

A resolution jointly adopted by the Members of the European Parliament's (MEP) Internal Market and Transport Committees says all new cars in Europe must be fitted with eCall devices to alert rescue services to road accidents through the pan-European 112 emergency call system by 2015.

A statement issued by the European Parliament was quite specific. “The resolution, adopted by 58 votes to 4, with 8 abstentions, regrets the delays in the voluntary deployment of eCall to date and the small proportion of cars fitted with it (only 0.4 percent) and urges the Commission to table legislation to make the eCall system mandatory by 2015.”   

Saving lives by saving on response time

This is an instance where despite a clear public need voluntary compliance is not doing the trick and regulators feel they must step in. And while doubts about the European Union (EU) persist because of the sovereign debt crises, safety seems to be one area where a pan-European solution gets traction.

The eCall initiative is aimed at bringing rapid assistance to car crash victims anywhere in the EU. The project goals are for deployment of a device in all vehicles that can automatically dial 112 in the event of a serious road accident. The system capabilities wirelessly send airbag deployment and impact sensor information, and GPS coordinates to local emergency agencies.  

Supported by the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) and ERTICO (a network of Intelligent Transport Systems and Services stakeholders in Europe), it is estimated that eCall could speed emergency response times by 40 percent in urban areas and by 50 percent in rural areas.

In fact, the resolution stated that “According to estimates, the eCall system would save up to 2500 lives a year and reduce the severity of injuries by 10 percent to 15 percent.”

While this is similar to the popular OnStar service offered by General Motors to its car owners in North America, part of the reason for the lack of adoption thus far has been that unlike single country solutions, the trans-boarder and interoperability issues surrounding such an effort make it complicated. For instance, the solution spans a number of technology disciplines including in-vehicle systems, wireless data delivery, and public safety answering point systems. This plus language and networking issues have made standardization a challenge although the system has been successfully tested on the European pervasive GPRS network and using in-band signaling on cellular networks.  

It should be noted that proprietary eCall solutions using SMS text messaging are available for European car models from BMW, PSA and Volvo.

Ready to go

What seems to have caused the resolution to be introduced and adopted is the regulatory view that the technology is ready for deployment. The statement points out that, “The necessary technology is available and common EU-wide standards have been agreed.” It continues saying the MEPs, “Therefore call on the Commission to table legislation requiring the Member States to upgrade their emergency response services infrastructure so that it can handle eCalls by 2015.” 

It also speaks to fears that have been raised that this is “big brotherism” is sheep’s clothing, and the information would be used to track people and not just be used for emergency response. Without using the word “hogwash” specifically, these concerns are written off as being fear-mongering since the data will be protected and strict guidelines for the storage, access and use of personal information will be enforced.  

If you wish to track the next steps, be aware that this is merely a resolution and not a law. The resolution will be voted in plenary in Strasbourg in July and The Commission is expected to table a legislative proposal on eCall by the end of 2012.

This is important for several reasons of which safety is obviously the largest. However, the reason for industry interest in getting this adopted is that once the platform is in place in motor vehicles it is expected to provide an infusion of innovation for things like route advisories and traffic information. Having direct wireless connectivity into autos opens up untold opportunities and it is likely that implementation of the eCall system will be placed on a schedule assure the 2015 objectives are met.

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Edited by Braden Becker

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