European eCall Regulation Now in Effect

The European eCall regulation, which mandates all new vehicles be equipped with GPS and cellular automated emergency calling system, went into effect April 1. The directive, which was approved four years ago, poses a significant challenge to the connected car industry and its supply chain.

It is already rare to see a brand-new car, of any brand, without basic wireless connectivity. Most new cars sold in the past five years are equipped with some form of two-way communication. Several manufacturers use the connectivity to monitor the vehicle’s performance, check the status of components such as brakes, tires, and fluids, and schedule preventive maintenance. Electric car manufacturers also monitor engine and battery use, especially when the vehicle is sold with a leased battery, something that has become the standard in the EV industry.

The European Commission proposed the eCall regulation in June 2013.The text was approved by the European Parliament in April 2015 and now, three years later, has become mandatory Vehicles are now required to send a “minimum set of data”, including exact location, time of crash, and direction of travel. The aim of the eCall directive is to reduce response times as much as 60% in most areas, thus saving more lives.

“eCall is a perfect example of an EU-supported project that developed technological solutions to save people's lives. The legislation now allows delivering real benefits of digital technology,” says Commissioner Günther H. Oettinger, responsible for Digital Society and Economy.

Image courtesy: European Commission

Image courtesy: European Commission

Independent subsystem & implementation

The Pan-European 112 emergency call system (equivalent to 911 in the United States) is designed to operate from any cellular phone, even if it is locked or doesn’t have a subscription. Cellular carriers are mandated to route calls to the nearest emergency service center.

During the initial discussions about the regulation, manufacturers asked to be able to use two options for implementing this mobile technology. The first was tethering through the consumer’s mobile phone connected to the vehicle via USB or Bluetooth. The second was installing a complete independent system inside the vehicle, using an embedded SIM to handle the emergency calls.

Tethering was discarded for the regulation because connectivity has to be established even if the consumer’s cellular phone is not operational. That can happen for several reasons, such as the phone not being in the vehicle, it being damaged during the crash, or it simply having an uncharged battery.

Manufacturers, however, are permitted to use the connectivity offered as part of premium services installed in the vehicle, such as navigation and entertainment systems, that use cellular connectivity, as long as the eCall system cannot be disconnected by the user. In the case that such additional services require a subscription, the eCall system must continue to operate even if the vehicle’s user decides to cancel such a subscription.

For all other vehicles, an independent cellular system capable of calling emergency services and sending the required information should be installed in the vehicle. It is necessary that the vehicle’s user has also access to the system to call 122 manually, but no subscription to any carrier is required.

In all cases the eCall system has to be compatible with the positioning services provided by the European Galileo and EGNOS systems. The use of GPS and Glonass is optional.

Privacy & data protection

Article 6 of the regulation is very specific about privacy protection and the potential use of collected data: “The personal data processed pursuant to this Regulation shall only be used for the purpose of handling the emergency situations referred to in the first subparagraph of Article 5(2).” And “Manufacturers shall ensure that the 112-based eCall in-vehicle system is not traceable and is not subject to any constant tracking.”

Also this year, with the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into full effect, manufacturers need to be especially careful not to collect and store any additional data from the eCall system. The eCall regulation specifically asks for data to be retained only for the time necessary to handle the emergency situation and should be “fully deleted” immediately after.

The automobile industry, has been preparing for the eCall regulation for the past four years. Some car manufacturers have argued that installing the required communications and positioning equipment, especially in low-end models, poses a significant cost on components and final assembly, as well as during final testing. The inclusion of the positioning services by Galileo and EGNOS is one of the main issues.

The regulation is now in full effect, and the only exceptions are vehicles which “cannot for technical reasons be equipped with an appropriate eCall triggering mechanism.”

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