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New European in-vehicle emergency call system promises fewer road accident victims

In 2015 the Regulation (EU) 2015/758 of the European Parliament and of the Council, which defines type approval requirements for the deployment of the eCall in-vehicle system, based on e 112 emergency call services, came into effect. The installation of this automatic emergency call system will be mandatory in all new types of passenger cars and light commercial vehicles from April 2018.

The need for an emergency call system

e-call logoThe European Commission has, for many years, been trying to reduce the number of serious road accidents. One measure that may help significantly is the deployment of the eCall system. It is expected that this system will reduce the number of fatalities as well as the severity of injuries caused in road accidents through early alerting of the public rescue services. The emergency system automatically calls for assistance in cases where the occupants are injured or trapped in the vehicle and where there are no eye witnesses present (remote roads, late at night, etc.) or where those involved in an accident do not know the local telephone number of the public rescue services.

Development of legislation

Since 2003, one of the main objectives for road safety is the deployment of the eCall system in all Member States of the European Union These efforts resulted in the HeERO pilot project, which began testing the emergency call system in everyday traffic. In the first phase (HeERO 1) from 2011 to 2013, nine countries (including the Czech Republic) took part, and a further six joined in the second phase (HeERO 2). At the end of April 2015, Framework Regulation (EU) 2015/758 was issued on the deployment of eCall to all new vehicle types of categories M1 and N1 after 31 March 2018, as mentioned in the introduction to this article. In July and September 2016, two further related regulations were issued. The Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2017/78 sets out administrative requirements defining the necessary documents and background information. The Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2017/79 specifies detailed technical test procedures for the type-approval of vehicles, separate technical units and components in relation to the in-vehicle of the eCall system. A similar arrangement is followed by the regulation draft of the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), the final form has not yet been approved, but the technical requirements will essentially be the same as in the EU regulations.

Legislative requirements outside the EU will clearly be more or less similar with variations depending on individual countries. The country furthest ahead in deployment of in-vehicle emergency calls is Russia (including the other countries of the European Economic Area), where the obligation to install such systems in new vehicle types (categories M and N below 2.5 t) came into force in early 2015. The requirements for the Russian eCall are based on several GOST regulations, and they use the ERA-GLONASS navigation system. Therefore, there are some differences between this and the European eCall (e.g. a requirement for tests on overturned vehicles and a lack of specifications on personal data protection). A number of countries (Israel, Turkey, the Gulf States) are following similar approach to the EU. On the other hand, many countries (e.g. China, Japan, Australia, the US), still have no clear rules for the deployment of an emergency call system.

New European in-vehicle emergency call system promises fewer road accident victims

Functional rules of the system

The eCall in-vehicle system is an emergency system consisting of an in-vehicle device and certain  launching, controlling and implementing devices that are activated either automatically through in-vehicle sensors or manually. Minimal data files are then transmitted via public mobile telephone networks and create an audio channel through the 112 service between the passengers in the vehicle and the emergency call centre.

The in-vehicle system is made up of several components, the most important of which is the control (telematic) unit.  Further components are the microphone, loudspeaker, antenna (GSM, GPS or Galileo), the button for launching the system manually and the cables connecting all the relevant parts. The launch mechanism for an automatic call will, in most cases, be the inflation of airbags, or a signal from the accelerometer indicating an accident-related vehicle acceleration value. The whole system must be sufficiently resistant to be capable of handling emergency calls after an accident. The system is launched immediately after an impact, sending minimum set of data  (information on the position of the vehicle, time of the accident, fuel type etc.) to the nearest public safety answering point and then it attempts to make a telephone (voice) connection (via the mobile operators) with thecall centre. Based on the telephone call with the vehicle occupants, the operator at the centre assesses the gravity of the situation after the accident and decides on the dispatch of individual units of the public rescue services, where necessary. The second option is a connection with a private emergency call centre (using a private number other than 112), known as a TPS (Third Party Services) eCall,. A similar service is already available in most cars for a fee. TÜV SÜD Czech can simulate the required acceleration of 77 g in its DYCOT sled test laboratory.

System benefits and further development

Without doubt, the eCall is a useful system which will increase safety on European roads. The EU estimates that the system can potentially mitigate fatal outcomes (death or serious injury) through early calls for appropriate assistance in the case of 2 500 accidents a year. Many future users are concerned about the possibility of system (or vehicle) monitoring and unauthorised interception, but this has been legislatively solved by ensuring that the system cannot be viewed when it is not activated. First experiences will show how safe such a system will be with regard to any abuse.


Main system benefits

The European automatic emergency call system will be operated through the Galileo navigation system, part of which was launched at the end of last year and which will be fully operational next year, when eCall also becomes a requirement for new vehicle types. One advantage of using the Galileo system is that it is fully under the control of the EU unlike the competing GPS (USA) and ERA-GLONASS (Russia) systems. The system can also be extended to other vehicle categories (e.g. motorcycles) and other possibilities may emerge in the use of modern mobile networks such as LTE (the high-speed 4G network). Last but not least, eCall may in future provide additional information that is very important for the public rescue services in the preparation of rescue operations, such as detecting the presence of children in a car (or a child restraint system), the type of impact (frontal, side or rear impact or a combination of these), or fire or flooding in the vehicle (automatic release of vehicle occupants from the safety belts).

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