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eCall emergency calls need to reach call centers without delay (Photo: EU, ADAC)

MUNICH --Smartphone integration may be one of the hottest issues in automotive infotainment, but the ubiquitous end-user device will not play a role in Europe's eCall initiative.

The EU Commission wants the Europe-wide emergency calling system to be mandatory in cars from 2015. But implementation across all of the bloc's 27 member nations has been slowed by differences of opinion on such issues as what technologies to use, how to assure cross-border interoperability, how service providers can identify eCalls and to which organizations the calls need to be forwarded.

But all players agree that, once the system is implemented, it needs to always work. In the view of the EU Commission, that rules out nomadic devices such as mobile phones, which are connected to the car by wire or wirelessly via Bluetooth.

"We've repeated many times: e-Call must be embedded in the car," said Pierpaolo Tona, a European Commission executive in charge of eCall deployment in the EU's Information Directorate.

Bluetooth connection

In a panel discussion at the Telematics Update conference here, Tona said systems such as Ford Sync, which rely on mobile phones in emergency situations "are excellent systems, but they are not really crash-resistant."

The Bluetooth connection that connects the phone to the car, for example, could be severed in a crash situation, Tona said.

His view was echoed by Stephan Cayet, chief technology officer for PSA/Peugeot-Citroen's telematics division. PSA has its own system that has put through around 100,000 emergency calls since its inception.

"In many cases, mobile phones would not have been able to provide full service beause of a crash," he said, citing data collected by the French carmaker. "When there's a crash, mobile phones are generally expelled from the docking station and even from the car itself," he added.

Under the eCall legislation that has already been approved by EU member nations, all new cars would have an embedded mobile communications device that automatically places a call in the case of a serious accident. The call can also be made manually from inside the car.

The communication, which would go to so-called public safety answering points (PSAPs) in every country, would use the 112 single European emergency number .

Included in the call would be an automatic transmission of key data on vehicle location, number of passengers and the state of the car.

Ecall pilot projects with fully interoperable systems are currently running in nine EU member countries through the end of 2013.

Savings potential

Auto industry executives worry that the timetable for eCall implementation is too ambitious. But EU Information Commissioner Neelie Kroes recently told EU member countries that she is committed to the 2015 deadline.

The EU estimates that automatic crash notification can save up to 2,500 lives a year. Across Europe, 31,000 people were killed in road injuries in 2010, while 1.5 million were injured. There were about 1.15 million traffic accidents in Europe last year.

Ecall should help reduce emergency services' response times to accidents, which willl lead to faster treatment of accident victims and better recovery prospects. In addition, the EU hopes the faster response times will mean that crash sites are cleared faster, reducing the risk of follow-on accidents and alleviating accident-related congestions.

The EU puts overall economic losses resulting from road accidents at more than 130 billion a year. It expects that Ecall can help save up to 38 billion euros in road-accident-related costs.