Mobile Carriers Sign up to EU In-car Accident Alert System

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E.U.'s mobile-phone industry on Wednesday signed up to eCall, a Europe-wide road accident alert system designed to reduce fatalities and serious accidents on the continent's roads.

The technology involves an onboard device that automatically dials 112 -- Europe's single emergency number -- and relays the exact location of the vehicle and the direction it is traveling in, using a mobile-phone signal and the vehicle's GPS coordinates.

The device could be triggered by the opening of an airbag, for example. A phone line to the emergency services would automatically be opened, allowing the driver to talk to them, as well as automatically transferring the car's coordinates.

Future models could be built into satellite navigation devices on the dashboard of the vehicle, mobile-phone industry group the GSMA said in a statement after signing up to eCall on behalf of the industry Wednesday.

However, the device wouldn't be a competitor to existing satellite navigation devices. "The two systems would complement each other, they wouldn't compete," said Robindhra Mangtani, a senior director of the GSMA, in an interview.

A Europe-wide standard for the technology already exists but six countries including the UK and France have so far failed to sign up to the plan, which would involve installing the eCall device in all new vehicles at a cost of roughly 100 euros (US$144) per car.

For eCall to work, all EU countries must ensure that their emergency services, especially call centers, are equipped to handle eCalls. If the system doesn't work in France and the UK, for example, the Commission said it will be hard to get the car makers to participate in eCall.

eCall was first mooted last month by telecoms and information society commissioner Viviane Reding. Reding congratulated the mobile-phone industry for its speedy response to her call for action.

And she warned the six countries that haven't committed themselves to the system yet that if they don't soon, she will propose E.U.-wide legislation that will force them to.

By backing Europe's in-car emergency call system, mobile-phone operators "have shown their social responsibility and openness to innovative applications of communications technology in daily life," said Reding.

Road accidents cost the E.U. economy more than 160 billion euros per year. Equipping all 230 million cars in the EU with eCall could save 26 billion euros annually, the Commission said in a statement.

The eCall system will also make it easier to manage road traffic congestion and to install services like satellite navigation in cars, the E.U.'s executive said.

More important, it could save up to 2,500 lives each year in the E.U. when fully deployed, and reduce the severity of injuries by 10% to 15% by speeding up the time it takes for an ambulance to reach a crash.

Rob Conway, CEO of the GSMA, said eCall is "a hugely beneficial and logical step forward in E.U. policy-makers' attempts to reduce fatalities on European roads."

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