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Europe

Smart Alarms for EU Cars

The EU plans to cut the number of fatal traffic accidents on its roads with the help of sophisticated technology that will automatically call an emergency hotline after a car crash.

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The system won't prevent crashes but could save lives

It's every car driver's worst nightmare -- a breakdown or worse, a crash in the middle of nowhere and no immediate help at hand. Or even if aid does arrive, it could be too late.

But, in future, it's exactly in dire situations such as these that Ecall, an emergency call system, will step in.

The EU Commission has announced plans to implement it by 2009. Over 20 representatives from EU member states and car and insurance industries have agreed to cooperate.

"With global placement systems and mobile telecommunications technology already standard in many high-end automobiles, it would seem that Ecall is an easy upgrade," said Alfredo Filippone, spokesperson from the European Automobile Manufacturers Association ACEA. "When embarked, say from a sensor in the car's airbag, Ecall will call the common European emergency number 112 automatically, and help will be on its way."

But Filippone added that there is still a lot of work ahead before Ecall can become a reality.

Saving almost 2,000 lives

Urlaub auf der Autobahn

Traffic congestion on a German highway

While automotive safety continues to improve, traffic accidents still account for around 50,000 casualties every year on European roads. Ecall is just one step in the EU's plan to halve the number of road fatalities by 2010.

Studies estimate that when fully employed, the quick and accurate location information passed on by the Ecall system could reduce the severity of injuries and save up to 2,000 lives each year. This will add up to big savings for insurance companies, said Alfredo Filippone. Therefore, automobile manufacturers think that insurance providers should help foot the bill for the initiative.

With this in mind, it is understandable why insurance companies or associations have yet to sign the memorandum for Ecall. The EU action plan targets the end of 2005 for final Ecall standardisation, and 2006 for full-fledged field tests.


However, nothing has been made mandatory as of yet. Should insurance companies refute their financial responsibility for the program, the automobile industry may not be as enthusiastic about Ecall after all.

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