Members of the European Parliament are backing calls for a mandatory eCall scheme, forcing every car sold in Europe to be fitted with an embedded mobile communications device to save an estimated 2,500 lives.
The European Commission has already adopted eCall, which mandates the fitting of a mobile device in every private car sold by 2015, but now the Parliament has passed a resolution pushing for legislation to turn it into a law, as voluntary adoption has been derisory, and extending the technology into (hitherto exempt) motorcycles and trucks too.
The embedded phone will automatically call the emergency services following an accident, reporting the location of the vehicle and force of the impact, but at a price the EU estimates at €100 per vehicle.
The law will only apply to new vehicles, so the money will be spent over a decade or so. Even if we assume the average cost is halved in that time there are almost 250 million cars in the EU that'll need replacing over the next 10 years, ringing up a €12.5bn bill.
One has to ask if it's really worth spending that much money to save 2,500 lives.
It could reduce injuries too, by as much as 15 per cent according to the proposal backed by Czech representative Olga Sehnalova and German Dieter-Lebrecht Koch and passed by the Parliament. But those figures assume aid will arrive faster when summoned automatically, as opposed to a call placed by a concerned bystander.
There isn't always a concerned bystander, or surviving passenger, handy, but in the vast majority of accidents there's someone about. One might even argue that bystanders will be less willing to place the call (and perhaps lend other support) when they know the vehicle will have summoned aid already – but perhaps we're being too cynical.
What is clear is that the insurance industry and police think this is a marvellous thing, being able to track people in the moments before an accident means cheaper premiums (for safer drivers) and easy placing of blame following an incident.
Even the MEPs accept that privacy protection will only go so far: "The resolution stresses that the eCall service must not be used to monitor a person’s movements or determine his or her location unless that person has been involved in an accident."
So once the call is placed then the car is free to report back on everything which happened up to that point.
And let's be clear: eCall might not mandate tracking but insurance companies are already offering cheaper policies to those who consent to it. Once the technology is embedded in every car they'll be no argument against agreeing, with insurance premiums which reflect that: a few curmudgeons might pay over the odds to avoid being monitored, for a while, but it will quickly become accepted as the price one pays for safer roads.
That's despite the fact that, in the UK, our roads are already among the safest in the world, but not as safe as they'll be once we've all shelled out an additional €100 for our cars, and drive in the knowledge that they'll sneak on us the minute we bump into someone else. ®