eCall now standard on all newly launched cars in EU
All new cars that are type-approved after April 1st have to be equipped with eCall, an emergency communication device with an integrated SIM card. It allows you to contact the emergency services by pressing the SOS button positioned near the rear-view mirror – either for yourself or when you witness a road accident involving casualties.
The most important feature, however, is something called ‘automatic crash response’. Once the airbags in your car have been activated following an impact, the system establishes a telephone communication with a call centre while sending the car’s exact GPS location. When there is no response, the emergency services are dispatched to the crash location, saving precious time and thereby hundreds of lives per year.
GM and Mercedes: the pioneers
If you ask people who ‘invented’ eCall and when, not many will reply that it was in fact GM, already back in 1996. Their premium sub brand Cadillac was the first to equip its models with a Motorola-co-developed system called OnStar – indeed, the predecessor of the platform-and-app which today comes standard on the majority of Opel and Vauxhall cars.
Another trailblazer in terms of automatic emergency assistance is Mercedes-Benz. Its 'emergency call' system comes standard in all model series since 'Mercedes me' was introduced in September 2014. Just like with OnStar, it has a major benefit, namely that communication takes place not in the language of the country in which the vehicle is situated, but in the language which the driver has set in the infotainment system.
Very helpful, but not perfect
There is no doubt as to the usefulness of eCall. It enables emergency services to respond faster, not least because the car's exact location is known. There are few buts, though. In remote areas, there could be a gap in the network coverage, meaning no communication is possible. Also, eCall does not know how many people there are in a car. With the occupants unconscious, the alarm centre does not know how many ambulances it needs to dispatch.
Moreover, if an accident occurs in a tunnel, for instance, e-Call cannot transmit the GPS location. Furthermore, it is not unthinkable that your children could press the SOS button when you leave them in the car for a few minutes. Finally, there is the privacy and cyber security issue.
Picture copyright: Mercedes-Benz, 2018