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European cars will automatically call emergency services after a crash

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EU plans will make in-car emergency call systems mandatory from 2018

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The European Union has approved plans to install an emergency call feature in all cars and light vans from March 31st, 2018. The system, known as eCall, automatically contacts emergency services in the event of a crash, as determined by in-car sensors, such as those triggering the vehicle’s airbags. eCall establishes an audio connection with emergency operators and automatically transmits basic data including the vehicle's type, location, and the time of the crash. Passengers and witnesses will also be able to activate eCall manually by pressing an in-car button.

eCall transmits data when a car's airbags are triggered

"The European Parliament has repeatedly stressed that reducing deaths and the severity of injuries on the roads is its priority," said Czech MEP Olga Sehnalova, the legislation's lead negotiator, in a statement. She added that the system will be "a public service, free of charge for all citizens, irrespective of the type of vehicle or its purchase price." Installing eCall is estimated to cost manufacturers €100 ($109) per car, although drivers wanting to retrofit it could expect to pay more. Sehnalova stressed that eCall will be completely dormant until the moment a crash occurs, telling BBC News that data is only transmitted once a car's airbags are triggered.

Last year, there were 25,700 fatalities on EU roads and motorways. eCall is expected to reduce emergency response time by 40 percent in built-up areas and 50 percent in the country, and it's believed the system could save as many as 2,500 lives each year. Sehnalova said eCall would also benefit tourists in the EU, because "when you cross a border you have a language problem and often do not even really know where you are." The vehicle's location is established using satellite navigation systems such as Galileo — the European equivalent of GPS.

Despite the potential benefits of eCall, some EU member states have objected to making it compulsory for all manufacturers. "The benefit of making eCall mandatory in all new cars does not justify the cost of implementing it," said Claire Perry, the UK's former transport minister, last December. "There was a view that, given the increasing responsiveness of our road network ... we did not feel that it was appropriate for the UK." However, even manufacturers disagree. Erik Jonnaert, head of the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association, welcomed the law, saying: "The industry feels that the final text strikes a good balance between saving lives and protecting data."