UK Dodges EU Car Crash Call System

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The EU has called on the UK to take its “foot off the brake” over the eCall system which could save 2500 lives each year by automating emergency calls

The UK is one of the countries holding up a system proposed by European authorities which would use in-car mobile technology to automatically call the emergency services in the event of a crash.

The European Commission announced this week that the eCall technology has now received support from mobile phone companies but countries such as the UK have still failed to sign-up to the technology citing cost concerns. The eCall system automatically dials Europe’s single emergency number 112 if the car it is installed in is involved in a serious accident.

Commenting on the decision to support the technology, Rob Conway, chief executive of mobile industry body the GSMA, said the his organisation’s members believe the technology should cut the 39,000 deaths and more than 1.7 million injuries on European roads in 2008.

“eCall was a hugely beneficial and logical step forward in EU policy-makers’ attempts to reduce fatalities on European roads. The GSMA fully supports the European Commission’s MoU and, by becoming a signatory, we are formalising our members’ commitment to participate with other stakeholders in deploying the eCall service,” said Conway.

Figures from the EU claim the technology could save up to 2500 lives each year when fully deployed and reduce the effect of injuries by 10 to 15 percent but while the mobile industry is behind the technology some member states have decided not to support it.

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“Last month, the European Commission called on Europe’s governments and telecoms and automotive industry to do more to put eCall on the road. I congratulate the mobile phone industry for answering so promptly,” said Viviane Reding, the EU’s telecoms commissioner. “However, the roll-out of the pan-European eCall needs everyone’s co-operation.”

Reding said that six member States have still not signed the eCall Memorandum of Understanding – Denmark, France, Ireland, Latvia, Malta and the United Kingdom. “They should now take their foot off the brake and speed up the introduction of a system that can save lives. Otherwise, the Commission will need to propose legislation next year.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Transport (DfT) contact by eWeek Europe UK confirmed that the UK has not signed the EU agreement on the eCall technology and explained that the costs involved of mandating the technology for inclusion in all new cars would not justify the benefits.

“After commissioning an independent review the Government is concerned that the benefits or making eCall mandatory in all new cars will not justify the cost of implementing it in the UK. We have decided, therefore, that it would not be appropriate for the UK to sign the MoU at this stage,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson added that the UK would continue to apply pressure on the Commission to address its concerns, and would review the case for signing up to the scheme if new information became available.

The DfT also maintains that although the UK hasn’t signed up officially, calls made by eCall systems are still supported by emergency services “provided certain principles are followed”. “UK Public Service Answering Points can handle such calls and manage the information provided,” the spokesperson added.

The DfT was asked to clarify what it meant by “certain principles” and for more information on “UK Public Service Answering Points” but did not reply in time for this article.

According to the EU, member states will have to take the following action to roll out eCall technology.

  • Firstly, all new cars will have to be equipped with eCall devices. In 2005, the European Commission and the automotive industry agreed to schedule full-scale roll-out of eCall for 2009. eCall devices were to be available as an option for all new cars from September 2009.
  • Secondly, the single European emergency number 112 (see box overleaf) must be operational for both fixed and mobile calls throughout the European Union. Unfortunately, not all EU Member States are as yet able to support the full 112 emergency services. At present, 112, or its location-enhanced version E112, is only working in 12 out of 27 Member States.
  • Thirdly, emergency centres and all rescue services must be capable of processing the accident location data transmitted by eCall. For example, ambulances need to be equipped to receive and process these data. Rescue centres should be able to forward all information to the fire brigade, hospital emergency rooms etc. In addition, to take full advantage of the voice link to the crashed car, centre personnel should be qualified to gather information in several languages.


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