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eCall – in the slow lane for delivering traffic flow improvements?

"eCall, as a concept, is sound. But the economic case for its implementation is being increasingly squeezed. The total potential benefits of eCall are less than originally projected and declining."

Charlie henderson, PA TRANSPORT EXPERT

Traffic incidents have a major social, economic and environmental cost.
The in-vehicle emergency call system initiative (eCall) provides an alert to the emergency services that an incident has occurred and provides highly accurate location information. This information enables faster and more accurate mobilisation of resources with significant congestion and environmental benefits.

However, a number of European countries have not yet signed up to eCall and there are a number of technical issues that need to be addressed.  We believe that the European Commission will find it increasingly difficult to mandate eCall. Instead, it should consider a change of strategy, and seek to work with the automotive industry to ensure that common standards are developed and adopted.

eCall presents a number of implementation challenges

eCall will be an extra cost which vehicle manufacturers and telecoms providers will need to pass this on to consumers. In the current climate, politicians will be extremely wary of any action which increases motoring costs. Further, standards across Europe must be agreed both for the technical solution and processes for system operation. These are still subject to debate and will delay implementation.

The benefits of eCall vary by nation and could take another ten years to be seen

  • There is an unequal benefits profile for eCall. In the UK for example, the public safety benefits are perceived to be lower than in many other EU member states. Also, the timescales to achieve implementation are potentially long. Introduction will need to be through new vehicles and, in practice, this means that the benefits will build slowly. We estimate that eCall equipment will only be present in the majority of vehicles on the road after a further ten years.

Other technologies are emerging faster than eCall to deliver the same (or better) benefits.

Improvements in road safety and congestion do not come from the detection and verification of incidents alone. There are gains to be made at all points in the process of incident detection and wider management. For example

  • Technology for detection and verification of incidents on the most congested parts of the road network. Not only can this be used for incident detection, real-time images have the potential to be used to assess the severity of incidents and for managing them

  • Improved response and incident scene management, between responders such as police, fire, emergency medical and those organisations responsible for traffic management

  • Better recovery and restoration, using recovery services with contracts which incentivise rapid recovery and clearance

Unlike eCall, which covers all vehicles and all roads, network operators are able target their investment to deliver the most benefit, i.e. on those roads with the worst congestion and highest incident rates.

eCall, as a concept, is sound. But the economic case for its implementation is being increasingly squeezed. The total potential benefits of eCall are less than originally projected and declining.

To explore our latest thinking, develop fresh perspectives on issues faced by the transport sector or to discuss what the future may hold for you, please contact us.

Contact the transport, travel and logistics team

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