The EU is planning to introduce a requirement that says all new cars must be fitted with a system that automatically calls the emergency services if you have a crash. But what are the potential problems with such a system?
Last September, the EU called on member states to convince mobile networks to let cars call the emergency services automatically.
Supporting data suggests that a reduction of response time by 50-60% is possible, which could save the lives of many car crash victims.
My initial thoughts are that this sounds like a sensible idea. But the sceptic in me has visions of malfunctioning systems as six fire engines, two ambulances and a van full of armed riot police turn up when someone bumps you in the supermarket car park!
A new level of ‘hands-free’ technology
I know that a couple of manufacturers already offer this feature, with both BMW and Peugeot receiving extra points in the Euro NCAP ‘safety assist’ rating for their systems.
In the event of an accident, the ‘BMW Assist Advanced eCall’ sends a message to a BMW call centre giving the ‘urgency’ severity risk prediction (based on data collected by the system as the accident occurred). It forms part of ‘BMW Assist’, a safety and convenience option available on all BMWs that also incorporates roadside assistance services.
The Peugeot ‘Connect SOS’ system does a similar job – sending a message to the emergency call centre indicating where the accident occurred and the likely severity.
Both systems establish a voice connection between the car and the call centre so, if the passengers are able to, they can communicate what has happened, the number of people on board, the severity of injuries and so on.
The two systems I describe above communicate to manufacturer-run (and funded) call centres. However, if a Europe-wide mandatory system was implemented; it would presumably operate through a single, dedicated call centre, to speed up responses by cutting out the middle man.
There is a definite propensity among the authorities (certainly in the UK) to cut back on services. For example, I read only a few weeks ago about the rationalisation of emergency service call centres in the area where I live. Whereas manufacturers currently charge a premium for this service and fund call centres themselves – a Europe wide enforcement would likely require support from existing (and already strained) emergency service call centres.
And if all carmakers are required to provide these systems, there will no doubt be pressure to reduce the cost of them. I worry that this could this lead to designs taking the ‘cheap and cheerful’ approach, leading to systems that aren’t up to the job. Could we start seeing regular calls when they’re not needed, clogging up our emergency services?