BRUSSELS (Reuters) -- Automakers welcomed a new law that all cars and light vans in the European Union will have to be fitted with automatic emergency calling devices starting in April 2018.
The so-called eCall device will automatically alert the nearest emergency center in the event of a crash by calling the EU-wide emergency number 112. This will give authorities information such as the exact location and time of the crash and the number of passengers in the vehicle.
"In the near future, eCall will be available for everyone in the EU and will help us mitigate the consequences of road accidents. It will be a major asset in our efforts to halve road fatalities by 2020," European Commission Vice President Siim Kallas, responsible for mobility and transport, said in a statement after the European Parliament approved the law.
The EU says the move could cut road deaths by 10 percent a year.
"This decision brings Europe one step closer to making operational a system which we have been advocating since 2004," Erik Jonnaert, secretary general of the European automakers association ACEA, said in a statement.
Road accidents killed 25,700 people in the EU last year.
The Commission, which proposed the law, estimates that the emergency response time will halve in the countryside and fall 60 percent in urban areas.
People would also be able to make an eCall by pushing a button inside the car, giving witnesses a chance to report accidents.
The devices will not track vehicles outside emergencies and authorities will not be able to transfer the data to third parties without the explicit consent of the person concerned.
But some members of the European Parliament said the proposal did not go far enough to protect drivers' privacy and did nothing to prevent accidents. "Just putting in the infrastructure for this would eat up a huge chunk of the road safety budget, yet it will not prevent a single crash," said Vicky Ford, a UK Conservative MEP.
Three years after the launch, the Commission will assess whether eCall devices should also be fitted onto buses and trucks.
Automotive News Europe contributed to this report