911 Crash Notifications Should Be Free Says Consumer Reports

Most new cars come with built-in technology that can automatically call for help in an emergency and give the precise location of your vehicle, even if you are unable to call.  This technology – known as automatic crash notification – has been in use in the U.S. since OnStar debuted in 1996.

This life-saving feature is now mandatory in all new cars sold in most of Europe.  But in the U.S., it’s only optional, and it can cost a lot of money. In a recent investigation, Consumer Reports (CR) found that most automakers still require a subscription fee that can be more than $100 a year to keep automatic crash notification active, and they’ll disable it if the fee’s not paid.

CR found that 14 car brands do offer free automatic crash notification on at least some vehicles, while seven offer free trial periods of five years or longer. Two automakers—Tesla and Fiat—don’t offer this service at all in the U.S.

More than 700 lives could be saved each year if all new vehicles had this safety feature, according to a 2019 study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  51 percent of Americans say it’s either extremely or very important that their next vehicle has a system that will call emergency services when the airbags deploy, according to a new nationally representative survey conducted by CR in March 2023.

To help save lives, CR is ramping up a new campaign to pressure automakers to make automatic crash notification come standard in all new vehicles, and keep it active for free.

More than 20,000 consumers signed a new CR petition in its first three days.  It’s aimed at the automakers General Motors, Stellantis, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, Toyota, and Tesla, which do not offer free automatic crash notification in all their models.

CR has raised this issue with the auto industry in the past, and one automaker says it made a difference:

Hyundai recently announced it will include automatic crash notification free on new vehicles sold after 2024 as part of its BlueLink connected suite, and it notes that CR’s advocacy played a role in its decision. “We believe providing these customer benefits at no cost is the right thing to do and is in alignment with our brand DNA over the years,” a spokesperson for the automaker said in a statement. “Consumer Reports’ information was one piece in our decision-making process.”

CR says it’s time for more automakers to make the same move:

“Automatic crash notification can save lives. It should come standard on all new cars, and remain active—and free—regardless of what happens with subscriptions for other connected services,” says William Wallace, CR’s associate director of safety policy.

Wallace notes that automatic crash notification is often bundled with convenience features such as remote start, WiFi hotspots, and concierge services. But CR’s engineers have found it would be easy for automakers to separate automatic crash notification and offer it free while still charging for other connectivity services.

“People injured in a crash shouldn’t have critical medical care delayed because they choose not to pay for features like remote start or a mobile hot spot,” Wallace says. “It’s one thing for automakers to charge extra for conveniences, but this is about safety, and safety isn’t optional.”

It’s not just safety advocates who are calling for change.  Doctors agree:

“All cars should be required to have this feature, and nobody should pay for it,” says Eileen Bulger, MD, a professor of surgery with University of Washington Medicine in Seattle who has researched the benefits of this feature on crash survival rates and presented those findings to the federal government. “It’s a safety feature.”

Today’s new cars and trucks come with standard safety features that used to be optional for an extra charge, including seat belts and rearview cameras.  Automatic crash notification is a proven safety feature that makes a real difference in saving lives.  It’s time for automakers to make it available for all consumers in the U.S., just as many of them are already doing for consumers in most parts of Europe.