Tory-led Coalition refuses system to reduce road deaths

Labour Party

All new cars sold in the EU should be able to be able to dial emergency services when they are involved in a serious accident. Having all cars equipped with an eCall system could save up to 2,500 lives a year. The European Parliament, which passed the report on this subject earlier this week at the plenary session in Strasbourg, hopes the proposal will be introduced in 2015.

Most EU member states have now signed up to the initiative, but predictably our Tory-led Coalition has not yet backed it. Sadly France is the only other EU member state to share the UK’s equivocation.

The British Government’s complacency is astonishing. Transport Minister Mike Penning is reported on the BBC website saying, “Britain has some of the safest roads in the world and technology has an important role to play in this, but it is important that each initiative is carefully considered on its merits.

“After considering the results of independent research we are concerned that the benefits of making eCall mandatory in all new cars will not justify the cost of implementing it in the UK. We have decided, therefore, that it would not be appropriate for the UK to support mandatory installation of eCall at this stage.

“However, calls from vehicles equipped with a private eCall system are already supported by UK emergency call centres.”

In other words, it’s all right if you can afford to pay.

The way the eCall will work is remarkably simple. A damaged car will make a 112 emergency call (eCall) as soon as its sensors (e.g. airbag sensors) register a crash. It could also be activated manually by pushing a special button in a car. The system will automatically transmit data about location and time of a crash to the nearest emergency response centre.

Member States will, however, have to upgrade their infrastructure so that eCalls are efficiently passed on to emergency services.

Currently, only 0.7% of all passenger vehicles in the EU are equipped with automatic emergency call systems. The eCall device is estimated to cost less than €100 per new car to install – a small price to pay for the number of lives which could be saved.

The Con-Dem Coalition defend their position on the grounds that road accidents are low in the UK. Britain may have safe roads, but no roads are free from accidents. The eCall system would certainly save British lives. Unless it revises its attitude, this Coalition Government could well be responsible for deaths on the road which they could have prevented.