Europe's eCall service will be made mandatory equipment on all automobiles sold within the EU from next April.
Previous legislation for vehicle safety has focused on the stuff that helps keep you out of an accident in the first place, such as electronic stability control and ABS braking, but eCall is designed to get the emergency services to you more quickly if you've had an accident.
The system, which is already offered by some automobile makers as an option, connects to your mobile phone. In the event of the automobile's airbags being deployed, and if it detects that you're not making any movements or calling for help yourself, it will ring the pan-European 112 emergency response number, and can use the GPS transponders in both the automobile and your phone to fix your position. If you're unconscious, or otherwise unable to speak, the system will still transmit the fact that there's been an accident, and give the location of the automobile.
There's also a manual-call option, whereby you can push a button to make the call yourself, if for instance you've seen someone having an accident and want to give the emergency services the location.
The main benefit, according to the European Commission, is that emergency responders can get to you much more quickly. "eCall cuts emergency services response time. It goes down to 50 per cent in the countryside and 60 per cent in built-up areas" said a European Commission report. "The quicker response will save hundreds of lives in the EU every year. The severity of injuries will be considerably reduced in tens of thousands of cases. You can also make an eCall by pushing a button inside the automobile. Witnessing an accident, you can thus report it and automatically give the precise location."
The Commission has also moved to head off any concerns about privacy from the fitment of the new system. There have been worries raised about the fact that the GPS system could be used to, theoretically, track the automobile while the built-in microphone could allow conversations within the automobile to be listened in to, remotely. "As eCall normally 'sleeps', it does not allow vehicle tracking outside emergencies," said the Commission report, but there will still certainly be those who will have their doubts over this aspect.