The European Parliament has ruled that all new models of cars and light vans must be equipped with automated emergency call devices by 31 March 2018.
Under the new rules, eCall in-vehicle systems, which alert rescue services in the event of serious road accidents, will need to be fitted into vehicles across all 28 member states of the European Union (EU).
European Parliament members (MEPs) also secured an obligation from the parliament to assess the use of eCall devices in other vehicles, such as busses and coaches, within three years of spring 2018.
The ruling comes in response to the 25,700 lives lost in road accidents across the EU in 2014; the addition of eCall systems is estimated to cut such fatalities by 10 percent annually.
European Parliament rapporteur and Czech Social Democrat MEP, Olga Sehnalová, said that reducing deaths and the severity of road accidents is the priority of the European Parliament, meaning the automated calling systems will be offered as a public service.
She said the eCall systems "will be free of charge for all citizens, irrespective of the type of vehicle or its purchase price" and will contribute to the "common goal" of reducing road fatalities.
In the event of a severe road accident, the eCall system will use 112 emergency call technology to alert the emergency services, enabling them to decide immediately on the type and size of rescue operation that needs to be deployed.
This in turn will help reduce the time it takes to arrive at the crash site and administer aid, thereby leading to the severity of injuries being reduced and a reduction of traffic jams further down the line.
Data privacy concerns
In order to address any future concerns about data privacy which the obligation to have eCall systems in vehicles might throw up, the data protection clause in the new law has been strengthened prevent any tracking of vehicles before an accident occurs.
The clause sates that data gathered by emergency centres or their service partners cannot be transferred to third parties without the explicit consent of a driver.
Vehicle manufacturers will also have to ensure that the eCall systems are implemented in a way which permits the full deletion of gathered data.
However, despite these pre-emptive clauses the move has already been challenged by Green party MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht, who told the BBC that "the consequence of being connected all the time means that we are also subject to more possibilities to track us". He added that people should be given the option to opt out of the eCall system.
Furthermore, at a Transport Select Committee meeting in March, UK Transport Minister Claire Perry also challenged the law, by saying: "The benefit of making eCall mandatory in all new cars does not justify the cost of implementing it."
The BBC noted that the European Parliament said the installation of the device is likely to add £72 to the cost of a new car.
The move for better in-car safety sytems comes amid wider concerns over the safety and security of driverless cars that are currently being tested on UK roads.
Author's view: Adding obligatory automated emergency calling systems to cars would appear to be a good move by the European Parliament to reduce road accident fatality without adding restrictions to the way motorists must drive.
While privacy issues may have some motorists feeling uneasy about the eCall systems, the data protection clause in the new ruling should be sufficient to alleviate any concerns.
Objections by Greens MEP Albrecht over car tracking seems to be erring on the theoretical side rather than being based on any real issues, particularly as European data protection laws are quite stringent and would require foolhardy car manufacturer of third-party to knowingly breach them.
With even the cheapest cars still costing in the thousands of pounds, the addition of a device that costs little over £70 but could save lives seems a fair deal.
As such, Transport Minister Claire Perry's objections appear to be tenuous at best, and raise the question as to whether she is putting a monetary value on human life.
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