Automotive > Powertrain, Body, Chassis & Safety Blog

Auto Safety Hits the Reset Button - in China

by Roger Lanctot | Oct 24, 2014

I’ve just come from the site of the 15th Western China International Fair in Chengdu and the booth of the Telematics Industry Application Alliance (TIAA) which featured more than a half dozen demonstrations of every imaginable configuration of eCall. ECall is what Europe has dubbed the automatic crash notification (ACN) function made famous by GM's OnStar.

There were embedded systems on display from Huawei and an aftermarket cigarette lighter plug in (not unlike the Splitsecnd product in the U.S.). There were head units from HSAE for passenger cars and commercial vehicles with ACN and systems with integrated smartphones. There was even an Ivoka OBDII plug-in from Pateo.

In the U.S., eCall, or ACN, is considered old hat. Most executives concerned with saving lives associated with car accidents have shifted their focus from surviving accidents (with airbags and seatbelts) to avoiding them altogether, with sensor-based safety systems. While TIAA in China is weighing the prospect of a recommended standard or mandate for eCall, the U.S. has never seriously considered the idea.

There is good reason for China’s auto industry to be interested in eCall. Accidents on Chinese highways are responsible for upwards of 100,000 fatalities annually – about three times the number killed every year in the U.S. (To put the figures into perspective, 300 people are dying every day on roads in China vs. 100/day in the U.S.)

China and India top the list of countries with the most highway fatalities, followed by Brazil and the U.S. Europe, which sees less than half the highway fatality rate of the U.S., on average, has been attempting to institute a mandatory eCall function for about a decade. In fact, Europe was recently joined by Russia which is pushing its own eCall-like solution.

Having just come from Brazil, where BMW and Volvo are offering ACN functionality, I can honestly say that ACN is seeing something of a revival. A new study from Strategy Analytics (Consumer Interest in Telematics Services - consumer interest in ACN as a telematics service at a low ebb in the U.S. and Europe, but gaining traction in China.

New telematics systems in the U.S., such as those offered by Audi and Tesla, have shown a willingness among car makers to not even bother with ACN. But in China, the largest and fastest growing auto market in the world, a wide range of suppliers from wireless carriers to head unit makers, are working on enhancements such as crash type and severity algorithms of the type developed by BMW and GM more than five years ago.

The only region contemplating an eCall mandate is Europe where highway fatalities are already at the lowest levels in the world. The added twist to the eCall debate is the United Nations’ interest in a global eCall mandate - a topic that will be considered at the upcoming Telematics Update event in Munich (Nov. 10-11 - Hotel Dolce, Munich - With annual global highway fatalities expected to top 2M in just a few years, cars are becoming a leading killer on the scale of a major worldwide health crisis.

Maybe it’s time to set aside all the app development and smartphone integration and get back to the basics of saving and preserving lives while cruising along the world’s highways. We boldly advance the cause of collision avoidance before we have conquered the process of collision survival.

Is it cheaper to make crashes survivable or to avoid them altogether? Of course, we want to do both.

The World Health Organization predicts that road traffic injuries will go from the current ninth position in the cause-of-death rankings to fifth place by 2030, causing 2.4M annual deaths (as well as between 20M and 50M injuries), largely of young people and at great economic cost – as noted in “The Norm Chronicles: Stories and Numbers About Danger and Death.”

It’s time to think again before crossing ACN off the list of telematics services when designing connected systems. The next life saved by an eCall may be your own.

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