Emergency Transmitters in Cars

The European Commission would like to see emergency transmitters in all new cars by 2015 – devices that automatically send an alert in the event of a crash, prompting emergency services to respond. This “eCall system” is the subject of a new Recommendation from the Commission, which is non-legislative but will be followed by a legislative proposal later.

Commission Vice President for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes, presented the eCall Recommendation to the European Parliament’s Transport Committee this week. The Recommendation calls on Member States to support the implementation of an EU-wide eCall service for in-vehicle emergency calls by ensuring that national mobile network operators introduce the necessary technology.

eCall is a pan-European in-vehicle emergency call system which is activated either manually by the car’s occupants or automatically when severe impact, an accident, is detected.  Installation of the eCall system is expected to cost less than €100 per new car.

The effective implementation of the eCall service would improve road safety across the EU as it would cut emergency services’ response time by up to 50%. This is expected to save around 700 lives and reduce the number and severity of up to 70,000 injuries in road accidents annually. The early arrival of emergency services also allows the crash site to be cleared more quickly thus reducing the risk of secondary accidents, decreasing congestion times and cutting fuel waste.

The Recommendation urges every Member State to ensure that its mobile operators treat calls from eCall devices like other 112 calls in giving such calls priority and charge free. In order for eCall to be successful networks will be required to handle eCalls in the same way as they handle traditional emergency calls. The measure also indicates that Member States should ensure that mobile operators put in place systems to identify eCalls so that they can be routed to an emergency service call centre equipped to handle them. Member States are free to organise their eCall response at national level in a manner that best suits their emergency response infrastructure. A number of vehicle manufacturers currently install eCall on demand; however the Commission aims to introduce eCall into all vehicles, starting with vehicle categories M1 and N1, by 2015.

The eCall Recommendation forms part of the framework of Intelligent Transport Systems in the field of road transport

eCall System

The eCall system is activated automatically as soon as in-vehicle sensors detect a serious crash. Once set off, the system dials the European emergency number 112, establishes a telephone link to the appropriate emergency call centre and sends details of the accident to the rescue services, including the time of incident, the accurate position of the crashed vehicle and the direction of travel (most important on motorways and in tunnels). An eCall can also be triggered manually by pushing a button in the car, for example by a witness to a serious accident.

The eCall system is estimated to cost less than €100 per new car to install. 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.

The pre-existing 112, EU-wide emergency number service, eases the transition for eCall initiative as the infrastructure for EU wide response is already in existence. The obligatory introduction of a harmonised, interoperable EU-wide eCall service is the most effective and efficient of the 3 options examined and is the best option for implementing the eCall service across EU.

The Commission has decided to take legislative action to introduce eCall because voluntary deployment has been insufficient. The Commission had previously called for eCall to be rolled out voluntarily across Europe by 2009, but adoption has been very slow.

There are a number of reasons behind the slow uptake of eCall by private companies:
• lack of coordination between stakeholders
• public emergency response infrastructure has not been upgraded to meet the needs of eCalls
• expensive as a result
• only available in limited number of Member States
The number of road journeys across the EU is increasing by 100 million journeys annually thus creating need for joined-up thinking at EU level on emergency responses to accidents. EU level, as opposed to Member State level, action is required in order to ensure continuity of services across the Union for drivers.

In preparing the Recommendation, the Commission carried out a consultation process with a wide range of stakeholder organisations including from the car and mobile networks industry. 

Content of Recommendation

The Recommendation is addressed to Member States and it contains a number of harmonised conditions and principles which Member States should apply to automatic or manual emergency calls made from in-vehicle telematics terminals (eCall devices) to 112, the single European emergency call number.

The eCall Recommendation introduces a number of definitions to be applied by Member States in this area:

• eCall is defined as an in-vehicle emergency call to 112 made either automatically via activation of in-vehicle sensors or manually and which carries a standardised minimum set of data
• Emergency service is a Member State service which provides immediate and rapid assistance in situations where there is a direct risk to life or limb, to individual or public health or safety, to private or public property or to the environment. The definition is not limited to these situations however.
• Public safety answering point (PSAP) means the physical location where emergency calls are first received. The most appropriate PSAP must be defined by authorities to cover calls made by eCall.
• eCall discriminator is a value which allows operators to distinguish between manual and automatic eCalls
• Mobile network operator is defined as a provider of a public mobile wireless communications network.
The Recommendation calls on Member States to draft detailed rules for public mobile network operators on handling eCalls. Member States should ensure that these rules are in line with EU data protection provisions, as contained within Directive 2002/58/EC and Directive 95/646/EC. The appropriate PSAP for eCalls must be indicated to mobile network operators.

Member States have until the end of 2014 to ensure that mobile network operators have implemented the relevant mechanism to support the ‘eCall discriminator’ in their networks. Mobile network operators would also be required to handle an eCall like any other call to the 112 single European emergency number.

By March 2012 Member States must report to the Commission on any relevant measures taken at national level concerning the Regulation and also on the extent of the implementation of the Regulation by mobile network operators as regards the handling of the ‘eCall discriminator’ in their networks. The Commission will then review the state of play, in particular in relation to the emerging needs of PSAPs.

Next Steps:

The Recommendation will now be sent to the European Parliament and to Council for consideration. The Recommendation will now be sent to the European Parliament and to Council for consideration. Recommendations, by their nature, are non-binding however they have political weight and help to prepare Member States for future legislative proposals.

The adoption of this Recommendation is the first step of a three part legislative process. The Commission will propose specific legislative initiatives on the eCall device to be fitted into the cars and on the technical specifications of the emergency call centres at a later date. The Recommendation is due to be followed by the adoption by the Commission of specifications for the upgrade of emergency call response centres (under the Intelligent Transport Systems Directive – 2010/40/EC) and a proposal for a Regulation to require eCall devices meeting the required technical specifications to be fitted to all new models of passenger cars and light vehicles from 2015 in order to obtain EU-wide type approval.

The Commission is aiming to have a fully functional eCall service in place across the European Union (as well as Croatia, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland) by 2015.