From early in the next decade, it'll be mandatory for all cars in the EU to be fitted with a "black box" technology called eCall. This is an in-vehicle emergency call service which is used to contact the authorities in the case of an accident or other adverse situation.

The initiative has come out of the eSafety Forum, a group of car manufacturers, technology companies and representatives of various emergency services bought together by the EU. Qualcomm is responsible for the radio modem that uses existing emergency bands for communicating with the authorities.

If a car crashes, or if anyone in the car manually activates the eCall system, a message is immediately sent to the authorities with info about the time, location and type of vehicle involved in the incident. A voice call can also be initiated with the emergency services that plays over the car's entertainment system and uses an embedded microphone so you can converse with the operator.

It's not entirely clear exactly when the system will become mandatory. The UK, along with a few other countries, haven't signed the necessary legislation yet. Qualcomm predicts a timescale of "around 2012", whereas Wikipedia reckons 2014.

Still, this could prove a useful tool for alerting emergency services to accidents, and getting help to those who need it, as well as for recording more accurate data on road accidents.