The GSMA has, unsurprisingly, come out in support of the EU plan to fit a mobile phone in every car, valuing each life saved at over fourteen million quid.
The eCall system dials 112 (the EU-wide emergency number) after an accident in order to summon the emergency services, and the Commission reckons that it could save 2500 lives a year. So far the system has been voluntary, but if member countries don't volunteer by the end of 2009 then the EU will pass legislation to make it mandatory, regardless of the cost.
15 countries have already signed up to the system, which puts a GSM mobile phone into every new car in Europe, along with a GPS system to report the current location and microphones around the car to pick up the screams of the injured. Denmark, France, Ireland, Latvia, Malta and the UK are still holding out, with claims that the system will be expensive and not good value for money.
Assuming a very conservative 200 million cars in Europe, and taking the EU-estimated cost of €100 for the phone and GPS kit, then we can calculate a total cost of €40bn*, or a shade over £14m for each one of the 2500 lives saved. Some might argue that the money could be better spent, but that would be churlish.
Even the EU's own figures, taking into account the reduction in heath care and the cost of the lives lost (based on the assumption that if the emergency services get there quicker then less medical treatment is needed) only reckons the system will save €26bn.
Of course, many cars already have GPS kit, and embedded mobile phones even feature in some of the more expensive models, so this measure would only hit people buying cheap cars.
So an EU directive that forces another 200 million mobile-phones onto the public gets endorsed by an industry association that exists to promote the use of mobile phones. Clearly an example of corporate social responsibility, as EU Telecom's Commissioner Viviane Reding puts it:
"I congratulate the mobile phone industry for answering so promptly. By backing Europe's in-car emergency call system, they have shown their social responsibility and openness to innovative applications of communications technology in daily life." ®
* We could calculate it that way, and we did, but a more accurate number would be 20bn, which reduces the value of a life down to a more-reasonable figure if still more than we'd want to spend.