EU cars to get automatic emergency call system from 2018

The eCall system will automatically dial 112, Europe's single emergency number, in case of a crash

Cars and light vans in the European Union will be fitted with an automatic emergency call device as of March 2018, now that the European Parliament approved rules that make such a system mandatory.

Called eCall, the system will automatically alert emergency services in case of a car crash. Its aim is to reduce the death toll caused by road accidents in the EU by 10 percent, potentially saving 2,500 lives per year, while also reducing the severity of injuries and cut the cost of traffic jams. eCall will enable an audio channel between vehicles and emergency services via a public mobile wireless communications network.

The in-car system will be mandatory under rules approved by a vote of the Parliament on Tuesday. As a public service, eCall will be free of charge regardless of the type of vehicle or its price, the Parliament said in a news release.

The system was approved despite some privacy concerns over a government mandated in-vehicle system.

However, the draft law's data protections were strengthened last year by the Parliament by adding a clause to preclude tracking of an eCall-equipped vehicle before an accident occurs. Also, the system will only share a basic set of data with emergency services, including the type of vehicle, the fuel used, the time of the accident, the exact location and the number of passengers, the Parliament said.

The rules also prohibit emergency centers or their service partners to transfer data to third parties without explicit consent, while manufacturers also have to ensure that the eCall technology design permits full and permanent deletion of data gathered, it added.

Despite these changes, some Members of the European Parliament have warned that even though the system is dormant most of the time, it still has to be active in some way to send a signal with location data based on GPS, and that such a system could also be vulnerable to hackers. Nonetheless, the majority of the Parliament apparently thought these risks acceptable.

As of March 31, 2018, all new models of passenger cars and light vans will have to be equipped with eCall. Three years after this period the European Commission, the EU's executive body, will assess if eCall should be installed in other vehicles such as buses, coaches or trucks, the Parliament said.

As the Parliament's vote ends the EU legislative procedure, the regulation will enter into force 20 days after its publication in the Official Journal of the European Union.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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