• Technology

High-tech system swiftly relays data on traffic accidents

Courtesy of HEM-Net
Information provided to hospitals by the D-Call Net system, including the likelihood of death or serious injury in an accident

A system that helps emergency services respond more quickly to traffic accidents is spreading nationwide. Preinstalled in about 3 million vehicles, D-Call Net is increasingly being utilized to save people’s lives.

Driving recorders are also being eyed as a way to ensure that vital information about accidents is swiftly conveyed to rescue personnel.

Under the D-Call Net system, information including the location of a vehicle involved in an accident and the strength of the impact is relayed to hospitals and fire departments. An ambulance or Doctor Heli air ambulance can be dispatched if necessary, based on this information.

Last year, an accident occurred in Toride, Ibaraki Prefecture, seriously damaging the front section of a passenger car. The D-Call Net system was installed in the vehicle, and data including the location of the car, the direction and intensity of the collision, and whether seat belts were worn, were automatically sent to a special server from the car.

The server estimated that the possibility of death or serious injury was 84%, based on its analysis of about 2.8 million past accidents. This information was relayed to nearby fire department headquarters and hospitals serving as a Doctor Heli base, after which ambulances and helicopters rushed to the scene.

About 28 minutes after the Toride accident, a helicopter arrived with doctors aboard. A woman in her 70s in the front passenger seat was in critical condition, with injuries to her chest and lower back. She was taken by helicopter to Nippon Medical School’s Chibahokusoh Hospital in Chiba Prefecture, and her life was saved.

“If the helicopter had been called after an ambulance had arrived at the scene, the doctors would have started treating her about 15 minutes later than they did. That could have resulted in her death,” said Yuichi Motomura, 44, a flight doctor at the hospital’s emergency and critical care center.

Operating in 43 prefectures

Operation of the D-Call Net system started on a trial basis in 2015 by the Tokyo-based nonprofit organization Helicopter Emergency Medical Service Network (HEM-Net) and other entities. Full-fledged operation began in 2018 in cooperation with 30 prefectures and 36 hospitals.

This effort has since spread to 43 prefectures and 61 hospitals, and the network also connects 724 fire department headquarters nationwide.

At first, only two automakers — Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. — were involved. However, Nissan Motor Co., Mazda Motor Corp. and Subaru Corp. also joined the effort in March 2019.

The D-Call Net system has been preinstalled in more and more automobile brands. As of September this year, 3 million of the about 62 million passenger cars owned nationwide were equipped with the system.

So far, there have been about 3,000 cases in which information was sent from cars that were jolted to a certain extent in accidents. Of this number, about 1,400 cases were reported to fire department headquarters and hospitals for such reasons as a high possibility of death or serious injury, or call centers being unable to contact the drivers.

The system ensures that information about an accident gets conveyed even if the injured persons are unconscious or there are no witnesses. An ambulance or air ambulance can therefore reach the accident quickly and doctors can start treatment soon.

According to HEM-Net, there have been 21 cases in which helicopters were dispatched, but no deaths among automobile passengers.

Driving recorders eyed<

Users of the D-Call Net system must sign a contract with automakers.

Honda allows free use of the system for one year and offers a number of plans after that, including one for ¥550 a month. Out of Honda’s about 440,000 units in which the system was preinstalled, users have formed contracts for about 339,000. However, there are many cancellations after the free period ends.

Honda’s public relations department said the company tells customers about the system when it delivers their cars and when the cars receive regular inspections, but awareness has not grown significantly.

There are hopes that driving recorders with a communication function can expand the use of automatic information systems in automobiles that do not have such a preinstalled feature. The recorders can be added to vehicles after purchase, and they have increasingly been bought in anticipation of such incidents as traffic accidents and road rage.

Automobile insurance firms are selling driving recorders that automatically send information about a vehicle’s location and images to call centers when they sense the impact from an accident. In some cases, operators at the centers confirm the safety of the people in the car and call an ambulance.