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More countries back eCall car safety device - 04/05/2010

The idea of equipping cars with an automatic SOS system is catching on in Europe.

Seven more European governments have endorsed the EU’s campaign to equip new cars with a device that would automatically call for help in the event of an accident.

Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Luxemburg, Malta, Poland and Romania are the latest to sign a non-binding agreement with the commission to deploy eCall, the in-car emergency call system.

Their pledge brings to 25 the number of European countries now committed to launching the system. This includes non-EU members Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. European carmakers and mobile phone operators have already backed the system, fulfilling another condition for its large-scale deployment.

Despite the growing support, five years after the campaign began eCall is not yet operational in any EU country. The commission had encouraged national authorities to roll out eCall much sooner, but some countries have expressed concerns about the estimated cost (around €100 per car). Others have been slow to upgrade their emergency centres and train rescue personnel to handle the calls.

When the eCall device senses a major impact, it automatically dials 112, the European emergency number, and informs rescue workers of the car’s whereabouts. Calls can also be made by pushing a button.

In either case, a voice connection is established between the vehicle and the rescue centre in addition to the automatic data link. This way, drivers and passengers capable of answering questions can provide further details of the accident.

If fully deployed across Europe, it is estimated the system would save 2 500 lives a year and reduce severe injuries by at least 15%. Around 39 000 people were killed on Europe’s roads in 2008, the latest figures available.

The initiative concerns only new cars – the EU is not asking for existing cars to be retrofitted.

Over the last three years, the EU has provided €160m for research on information technology to improve safety and services in transport.

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