Help is just an eCall away

A pioneering telematic initiative in the EU will soon make its way to Japan
[Article published in The Review (Feb. 2013)]

A pioneering European emergency-call system for vehicles that aims to bring rapid assistance to road traffic incidents has piqued the interest of the Japanese automotive industry.

Every year, about 1.3 million people worldwide lose their lives on the roads, with up to 50 million more suffering non-fatal injuries. The human and economic impact of these tragedies is huge. Estimates suggest that, each year, traffic incidents cost countries between 1% and 3% of their gross national products, largely due to the price of treatment for victims and lost productivity.

Vehicle Telematics

Many governments have attempted to introduce safety measures to reduce collisions, with the majority of these initiatives tending to focus on enhancing road infrastructure. Japan, for example, reduced fatalities by 25% between 1970 and 2008 by improving street lighting, sidewalks and traffic flow at intersections.

Now, countries around the world are waking up to the possibilities presented by technology as a means of improving road safety. The European Union has pioneered this approach, but any solution to such a universal problem will surely come on a global scale.

In 2009, the EU launched its eCall initiative, a pan-European, in-vehicle M2M (machine-to-machine) emergency call system designed to bring rapid assistance to drivers involved in collisions. In the event of a serious road incident, an eCall-equipped car automatically dials 112 (the Europe-wide emergency number) and gives emergency operators information relating to the incident, including GPS coordinates, the time of the incident and the vehicle identification number.

Operators can then dispatch appropriate assistance, which will speed up the response times of emergency services by 40% in urban areas and by as much as 50% in rural locations.

By enabling qualified and equipped paramedics to get to the scene within the crucial first hour of the incident, the eCall system has the potential to save about 2,500 lives in the EU each year and reduce the severity of injuries by 10% to 15%.

Initial concerns about data protection and the potentially prohibitive cost of implementing such a system have proved unfounded. As eCall normally “sleeps,” it does not allow vehicle tracking outside of emergencies and, as the M2M technology it uses already exists, rolling it out across the EU will cost less than €100 (US$134) for each device when fitted in the factory. As a result, the European Commission wants all new cars to be fitted with eCall devices from 2015.

Given the service’s potential, Japan is sitting up and taking notice. In January, Gemalto joined forces with Yokosuka Telecom Research Park and Japan-based developers Fujitsu Ten and ERTICO to launch the first eCall facility outside of Europe. Allowing Japanese automakers to test solutions locally that are destined for the EU will save time and money while giving new impetus to the EU-centered initiative, which may eventually become common practice across the world.

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