Blog: Will the UK Adopt eCall?
Have you heard of eCall? It could be a life saver, but only if the UK follows an EU lead and mandates the use of a new, but relatively expensive, in-car technology.A few years ago the European Union decided to promote the use of in-car technology in order to improve the response times of the emergency services in the event of serious motoring accidents, with the aim of reducing the number of deaths on the roads of Europe.
This “eCall” project involves the fitting of telematic- and telephony-enabled devices to cars which, in the event of a serious crash, will automatically trigger a call to the emergency services, providing the precise locations of the accident as well as other information about the car and about the potential severity of the accident. The eCall system uses motion sensors to trigger the call, similar to those used to set off airbags. After the emergency services are alerted a voice connection is automatically established between the car’s occupants and the emergency services operator.
The EU statisticians reckon that the universal application of eCall could cut emergency services response times by up to 50%, save around 2,500 lives a year and reduce the severity of injuries for car crash survivors.
The EU would like to have this eCall service running across the whole of Europe by 2015 and to mandate all car manufacturers to fit the required devices to all new cars from this date. Whilst a number of EU countries have already voluntarily opted in to this initiative (Germany, Italy, Sweden and about 20 others), others including France and the UK have not yet committed to the project.
It appears that there are two key arguments against the adoption of this initiative.
Firstly, there are also concerns that making the eCall system mandatory in the UK would not justify the cost (at about £100 per device the costs would have to be passed on to car buyers). The UK government has argued that because the UK road safety record tends to be better than that of other European countries, the eCall system will have considerably less impact in this country - the Transport Research Laboratory estimated that eCall would only reduce UK road fatalities by 1% and serious injuries by 0.5%.
The second argument is essentially around privacy. Despite protestations from the EU that the eCall system would only be activated in the event of an emergency, some campaigners are concerned that the devices could essentially be a “Trojan Horse” that could pave the way for road charging, journey tracking, accident investigation and other “big brother” initiatives in the future. Those pedalling this view claim that drivers already have the facility to purchase a similar product should they wish to do so (indeed, BMW and Volvo have already introduced UK models with this capability).
The reason why we’re interested in tracking this debate is that the technology used here has some parallels with that used for telematics insurance – sometimes calls black box insurance or “pay as you go” insurance. If the EU eCall system is adopted in the UK it could remove a major obstacle for the take-up of these new insurance policies – namely the cost and inconvenience of having to have a telematics box fitted.
We’ll watch the debate with interest. You can find out more here: http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/activities/esafety/ecall/index_en.htm
As ever, we’d welcome your thoughts and opinions.