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ANALYSIS: Collision assisance tech

Date: 29 August 2014   |   Author: Jack Carfrae

A system that automatically calls the emergency services after a crash and pinpoints a car's location is set to become standard in all new cars, but it's not without its problems. Jack Carfrae reports

Death and serious injury numbers on UK roads are about as low as they've ever been, while Volvo says no one will be killed or seriously injured in its new cars by 2020, so it's easy to think that road safety is reaching its zenith.

The industry wouldn't be ploughing the resources it is into curbing accidents if there wasn't any work left to do, though, and one of the issues bubbling under the surface for around a decade now is the ability to immediately and accurately locate a vehicle and its passengers when a serious accident happens.

Mobile phones are all well and good, but they don't provide as accurate a location via an emergency services trace as most of us would like to think (see news p3 for more), nor are they much good if you're in a reception black spot or if an accident victim is unconscious.

The eCall initiative was launched in 2004 by the European Commission, and aims to have all new cars sold in the EU fitted with a device that automatically contacts the emergency services when an accident happens. The technology is nothing new - you can find SOS buttons that do largely the same thing on a lot of modern cars - but they're not standard fit or automated and they usually dial into a manufacturer's call centre before the legitimate calls are passed on to the emergency services.

If eCall becomes mandatory, which is currently due to happen in October 2015, it will work as a completely automatic system, will telephone the emergency services directly, and will be a universal function in every car.

Volvo's OnCall product manager, Michael L Sena, explains how it works: "There are three ways in which you can [get the vehicle to] make a call after a crash. One is if you have a crash sensor in your car and a Bluetooth connection to the phone. Two is taking the driver's life in your hands with motion sensors [on the phone], so if a car crashes and the phone goes flying through the window, the phone call goes out, if you're lucky, before the phone is destroyed. Three is a device connected to the crash sensors in the car that automatically calls the emergency services - this is eCall. We do it already, but it goes through to our call centre, who intermediate. They're usually calls that require something else, rather than emergency service call centres."