On a September night last year, in the minutes after a two-car crash on the Kennedy Expressway, Kenneth Neiman says he was in fear for his life. He was trapped inside his 2013 BMW sedan in the outbound I-90 lanes near Fullerton, the airbag exploded and his cell phone had been thrown out of his reach during the impact—he says he counted on his in-car emergency assist service to call 911 for him. He says that service let him down.
Accident Victim Says In-Car Emergency Call System Failed Him
When seconds count after a car crash, can drivers count on a life-saving device in their car to get them needed help?
By Lisa Parker
Published at 7:44 PM CDT on Sep 23, 2014 | Updated at 9:41 PM CDT on Sep 23, 2014
“I recall waiting, so long, in such a state of pain, that I don’t know how long it was. All I knew was something was wrong, because BMW did not send help,” Neiman says. He shared the recording of the call with BMW Assist from that night, in which Neiman can be heard asking for help more than 40 times in the first six minutes.
Neiman says he couldn’t hear the BMW Assist operator, who was at a call center in Texas. The call is difficult to discern; NBC5 Investigates boosted the audio to better hear the operator’s end. Neiman tells her he is hurt, that he needs help, and repeats that he cannot hear anyone on the operator’s end. A passerby can be heard speaking with Neiman, but very little is heard from the BMW Assist operator. Six minutes in, she calls the Chicago emergency dispatch center.
Fire: Chicago Fire Dept
BMW Assist: Hi, this is (operator’s name) with Agero. We monitor BMW vehicles. I’m calling about an accident that happened on the I-90 express lanes
Fire: At what street?
BMW: Um well it’s near the exit 4-7-B and 4-7-A
Fire: Do we know what hundred that is?
BMW: I’m sorry .. which, which hundred it is?
Fire: Yeah, I mean I don’t know what the exits are. Do you know what hundred it is? Or what street it is?
J: Um the nearest street would be North Damen Avenue.
Reports obtained by NBC5 Investigates from that night indicate whose call triggered emergency vehicles to the scene, and it was not the professional service. Three passersby reached 911 before the call from the BMW Assist operator came in. The recording reveals she spent six minutes on the call connected to Neiman’s car before she called 911.
“I had no idea who caused help to be sent,” Neiman says. “All I know is I laid on the road for what seemed like an eternity, during which time nobody from BMW said help is on the way.”
Neiman is now suing BMW, alleging its emergency assist system was defective, and it response time unreasonable.
BMW declined to comment, but in an email to the Neimans a lawyer for BMW NA made a goodwill offer of $1,000, not to compensate Neiman for any alleged injury, but for the minor frustration and inconvenience he alleged in his contact with BMW Assist.
BMW also declined to answer any questions about how BMW Assist operators are trained, for emergencies or otherwise. BMW Assist operators do not work directly for the carmaker, but rather for a third-party operator called Agero. The unit of Agero that fields emergency telematics calls was recently bought by Sirius XM.
Neiman says he plans to proceed with his lawsuit, and hopes other drivers can learn from his situation. He says he remains a fan of BMW’s engineering, but not of its third-party emergency assistance service.
“You do not know whether or not the operator knows what they’re doing, or how to handle the call. There’s no explanation provided for why I did not hear an operator,” Neiman said. “All I know is BMW was supposed to be talking to me and they were not.”
There are currently no regulations that govern telematics, or in-car emergency assist operators as they interface with municipal emergency dispatchers.