I attended a conference in Spain at Easter 2010 – the Easter when Ash Wednesday actually meant something. A speaker stood up and described an EU project whereby cars would talk to each other in some way yet to be determined so in the event of congestion (a significant period of slow progress) or a sudden stop (interpreted as an accident) the car would contact a central control room and pass information about these situations. In extreme cases the car would dial 112 and request police or fire or ambulance to attend. At the time the hypercritical audience pooh-poohed the idea pointing out that there was no personal data involved if two cars talked to each other. But is it an intrusion into our private life?
The European Commission recently announced that it would like to see emergency transmitters in all new cars by 2015 – that’s under 3 years away. This “eCall system” is the subject of a new Recommendation from the Commission, which is non-legislative but will be followed by a legislative proposal later. Installation of the eCall system is expected to cost less than €100 per new car. It will be compulsory. The Commission has decided to take legislative action to introduce eCall because voluntary deployment has been insufficient. The Commission had previously called for eCall to be rolled out voluntarily across Europe by 2009 (that’s before planes failed to fly due to the ash cloud of a volcano who’s name is worth 675 points at scrabble) but adoption has been very slow.
Obviously it would help in road safety matters and the early arrival of emergency services also allows the crash site to be cleared more quickly thus reducing the risk of secondary accidents, decreasing congestion times and cutting fuel waste.
The eCall system is activated automatically as soon as in-vehicle sensors detect a serious crash. Once set off, the system dials the European emergency number 112, establishes a telephone link to the appropriate emergency call centre and sends details of the accident to the rescue services, including the time of incident, the accurate position of the crashed vehicle and the direction of travel (most important on motorways and in tunnels). An eCall can also be triggered manually by pushing a button in the car, for example by a witness to a serious accident.
The eCall system is estimated to cost less than €100 per new car to install. To rule out privacy concerns, the eCall system does not allow the tracking of vehicles because it ‘sleeps’ and does not send any signals until it is activated by a crash. However there are a few other issues to bear in mind. It’s a GPS system. There’s a button in every new car labelled SOS which is pre-activated so unless you ask for it to be turned off it’s already on. Some mysterious data controller (maybe a fat one) knows where every car in the EU is at any given time.
Spookily the car’s audio system is linked to the fat controller so he can speak to you with simple sound bites such as “Would you like a big mac while you’re waiting for help – there’s a truck stop 2 clicks away and we can blue tooth your order there”.
I’m pleased I drive a Mk IV Golf. It doesn’t have a cat; it’s not trackable by a fat man sitting in Brussels eating chips with mayonnaise on and it plays 8 track cassettes at maximum volume while I sit in traffic jams on the M25.