According to the goal set in 2001 by the Council of State of Finland the number of traffic fatalities annually should be under 250 by the year 2010. This goal calls for a reduction of at least 125 traffic fatalities from the number in 2004. The Pan-European emergency call system (eCall) which was developed under the initiative of the eSafety Forum, composed of the European Commission, industry and other traffic safety actors could help to meet this goal.
The eCall system, which is installed in the vehicle, is based on either the automatic detection of an accident with an instrument or a manual emergency call made by pushing a button. In both cases a normal voice communication is opened to the emergency centre after a small delay. Accident vehicle identification and possible accident severity information is transmitted automatically. The automatic detection of an accident is based on the vehicles sensors or the sensors built into the eCall device. The in-vehicle sensors can detect e.g. triggering of an airbag, intense deceleration, vehicle rollover or a sudden temperature increase.
According to the international estimates show that the eCall system can reduce traffic fatalities by 4-56 annually. Such vague results does not warrant objective decision-making on government participation in the deployment of eCall. In addition, these estimates have not been proportioned to Finnish emergency centre processes or Finnish accident data. The estimates are also not based on the kind of detailed analysis possible in Finland. Based on the above it is clear that the impacts of the eCall system should be explicitly evaluated based on Finnish accident data taking into account local circumstances.
The main objective of the study was to determine the quantitative effect of the eCall system on the number of traffic fatalities in Finland. An additional objective was to estimate the impacts of precise accident location and other information obtainable from the eCall system on accident consequences.
Other objects of the study were to:
- gain information about delays in emergency procedures and estimate by how much and in what number of accidents the eCall system would speed up emergency calls and the arrival of help;
- examine the impacts of the eCall system on official activities in traffic accident situations;
- estimate the benefits of the eCall system against the costs of the system;
- suggest possibly more effective processes for the compiling personal injury statistics if the current statistical methods do not enable reliable impact evaluation.
The impacts of the eCall system on the number of fatalities in traffic accidents and the time between the time of the accident to the accident call were studied using the data from the road accident investigation teams. The data was limited to 2001–2003 when the cellular phone density had reached the current level of practically maximum penetration. The study was limited to include only traffic accident fatalities as only the accidents leading to fatalities are investigated in detail and for them the statistical coverage is 100 percent.
In 2001–2003 the road accident investigation teams examined 797 accidents with at least one fatality in a motor vehicle and 263 accidents with at least one unprotected road user fatality. The number of deaths in motor vehicle accidents were 929 and 264 in unprotected road user accidents. The study included 99% of the material. No accidents of any vehicle types were deleted from the study material even though the eCall device is not designed for two wheel vehicles or snowmobiles. This was because the eCall technique is supposed to develop so that the abovementioned vehicles can be equipped with them in the future. It is important for future studies to gather data also from two wheel vehicle and snow mobile accidents, the injuries and delays in the calls for help. The accidents have thus been divided into two groups:
- accidents with at least one vehicle that can be equipped with an eCall device (eCall currently possible)
- accidents with no vehicles that can be equipped with a current eCall device (eCall currently impossible).
According to the decrease in the number of fatalities in motor vehicle and unprotected road user accidents in the study the eCall system would have very likely prevented in total 43 traffic fatalities in 2001-2003. This is 3.6% of all the traffic fatalities in those years. Fatalities that the eCall system might possibly have prevented were estimated to be about 4%. In total, 5-10% of motor vehicle fatalities and 4-8% of all Finnish traffic fatalities could be prevented with the eCall system.
The percentage of the fatality reduction impact of the eCall system was greatest in the accidents involving vehicles in which the current eCall equipment cannot be installed. This is due to also the greatest percentage of long emergency delays in these accidents.
The study was unable to evaluate the impact of the precise location information given by eCall on the swifter arrival of rescue units at the accident site in the evaluation of decrease in traffic fatalities. The surveys of emergency centre duty officers and interviews of officials showed that there was some inaccuracy in the location information given by the emergency callers. The decrease in traffic fatalities can thus be greater than the result of the study. The study assumed that all vehicles were equipped with the eCall terminal and that each terminal would function properly. If this is not the case the benefits of eCall would be smaller. The decrease in the traffic fatalities arrived at was, however, deemed to be the most realistic result with the available data.
The benefit-cost ratio of the eCall system has been estimated as between 1.1 and 8.5 in earlier foreign studies. In this study the benefit-cost ratio of the eCall system was estimated to be in the range of 0.5-2.3. The estimate does not take into account the indirect benefits of the eCall system like the several new location utilising services that can be based on eCall. The impact of these services on the price of the eCall terminal was also not known at the time of the study. A further consideration is that the current hospital centralisation under way at many locations will increase the distance between hospitals emphasising the benefits of the eCall system. It can be assumed that the indirect benefits of the eCall system will improve the benefit-cost ratio.
The reliability of the benefit-cost ratio estimate is reduced by the fact that the benefits of the eCall system for the trauma of the injured could not be estimated dependably due to inadequate data of those inj
Based on the main findings of this study, the eCall system is recommended for immediate and widespread implementation in Finland. The study also indicated a need for developing statistics on severely injured accident casualties.