From 31 March 2018 all new models of cars and light trucks sold in the European Union will be equipped with an eCall automated emergency call system.  Behind the scenes, the participants to the I_HeERO project, in which ERTICO plays a leading role, worked tirelessly on the implementation of eCall, upgrading Public Safety Answering Points to handle emergency calls placed from newly equipped vehicles.

The new eCall system takes the shape of a red dashboard button labelled “S.O.S.”, allowing the driver and passengers to contact emergency services in case of a crash.  The on-board eCall device can be triggered manually by the occupants, or automatically, if it detects the tell-tale signs of a crash, such as the airbags blowing, seatbelt pre-tensioners activating, or the vehicle being rolled on its side or roof.

Once triggered, the eCall unit contacts emergency services via the pan-European 112 emergency number, using its own SIM card to connect to the mobile phone network. A voice line is then established, and a Minimum Set of Data (MSD), including the location of the incident, is automatically transmitted to the Public Service Answering Point (PSAP). This allows emergency services to identify, locate and respond to a crash situation without human intervention if the victims are unconscious or otherwise unable to place a call themselves.

One third of all road fatalities in the EU occur in single-vehicle crashes – where the driver, rider or passengers are killed with no other vehicle or road user involved. Sixty percent of those single-vehicle fatalities occur on rural roads, where it may take minutes or hours before a crash is noticed and reported, further delaying emergency response and the possibility of reaching injured occupants in time. In these situations, eCall can make a difference.

The European Commission in its impact analysis estimates that eCall will cut emergency services response time by 50% in the countryside, and by up to 60% in built-up areas, saving ‘hundreds of lives’ every year and reducing the consequences of injuries. In particular, young drivers aged 18-24 are twice as likely as users aged 25-49 to suffer a fatal single-vehicle collision, making them a key demographic that could benefit from eCall.

In compliance with privacy requirements, the eCall system only transmits essential information and does not store or record data. And because it is based on the pan-European 112 emergency number, eCall offers seamless cross-border service anywhere in the European Union, as well as in Norway, Switzerland and Russia thanks to compatibility with the ERA GLONASS navigation system.

While eCall is only mandatory in new car and light truck models, the I_HeERO project team studied the potential extension of eCall to other vehicle types: heavy goods vehicles, long-distance coaches, and powered two-wheelers. Prototypes of on-board eCall units have been developed for all these vehicle categories, with recommendations sent to the standardisation body CEN.

Beyond these day-one features, I_HeERO laid the groundwork for the transition to next-generation 112 eCall. Next-generation eCall will need to carry more data, handle video and text communications, and let the Public Safety Answering Point access vehicle elements remotely, allowing operators toview feeds from on-board cameras (such as rear-view or blind-spot cameras), sound the horn, disable the ignition, unlock the doors, or flash warning lights. While this new range of functionalities could help assess crash situations remotely for a better response and prevent pile-ups, it raises a number of privacy-related questions that need to be answered before deployment can be considered.

Furthermore, the next-generation eCall will also open up to additional communication networks, such as satellite telephone networks, expanding its reach beyond mobile phone coverage areas. The evolution towards 4G mobile networks also offers an opportunity to develop a packet-switched, all-IP eCall carrying both the minimum set of data and additional information associated with the emergency call. To that effect, the I_HeERO project has produced proofs of concept and presented conclusions to the standardizing body CEN, supporting the development of the next generation of eCall standards.

Thanks to the work of its eleven participating EU Member States and close to one hundred Associate Partners, the I_HeERO project has successfully implemented eCall across Europe. Road users are now expected to reap tangible safety benefits thanks to faster response times, crash geolocation, and automated emergency calls following single-vehicle accidents.

Read more about the implementation of eCall, its extension to heavy vehicles and powered two-wheelers, and the next generation eCall in the Final I_HeERO newsletter here: