Automakers have 3 years to meet EU eCall requirements for new cars (Photo: ADAC)

The European Parliament, in the final step in Europe's legislative process, approved the mandatory introduction of eCall from the spring of 2018. The legislation means that from March 2018 new passenger cars and light vans will have to be equipped with the automatic emergency alert system.

eCall was originally scheduled to become mandatory this year, but introduction was postponed as a result of intensive lobbying by the auto industry, which cited a multitude of technical, regulatory and organization problems that still needed to solved.

However, Europe's car industry is now on board for the system's rollout. "This decision brings Europe one step closer to making operational a system which we have been advocating since 2004,” said Erik Jonnaert, secretary general of the European Auto Industry Association (ACEA).

The 28 member European Union wants eCall, because it is seen as a means to reduce road deaths, which totaled 25,700 last year, by about 10 pc a year. The European Parliament also has repeatedly said that eCall is one of its priorities. Olga Sehnalova, a Czech EP member who wrote the definitive report on the measure, said: "eCall as a public service, free of charge for all citizens, irrespective of the type of vehicle or its purchase price, will contribute to this common goal."

The eCall systems requires in-car technology that can automatically call Europe's 112 emergency number in case of an accident. This would lower response times by emergency services.

To preserve data privacy, the automatic call would provide emergency services only with information about the vehicle type, fuel used, time of accident, exact location and the number of passengers. Data gathered by emergency services cannot be transferred to third parties without explicit consent of the person concerned. And carmakers will have to design eCall systems that allows full and permanent deletion of data gathered.

The eCall legislation passed last week targets passenger cars and light commercial vehicles. But the European Parliament also decided that the EU Commission, the block's governing body, needs to assess in the three years following 2018 whether trucks and buses should also be forced to have the system on board.

Under legislation already approved in 2014, EU member states have to make sure they have an infrastructure in place to process eCalls by October 1, 2017.

Sehnalova explained in remarks last month that the need for a Europe-wide system is obvious because most emergency calling systems are not fully designed to operate internationally. "Private services offer this, but they don’t work across Europe," she said. "Also, when you cross a border, you have a language problem and often do not even really know where you are."

Matthias Wissmann, president of the German Automobile Association (VDA), noted, however, that private emergency call systems offered by many car brands can also still be used. "These systems proved their efficacy in practice long ago and they deliver additional benefits to motorists, for example they make it possible to communicate with the helpers in the native language, even in other countries.”