Safe as Volvos

Volvo is celebrating over 60 years of thought-leadership in the automotive safety space.

And with its Vision 2020 goal of absolute driver and passenger protection in its new vehicles now more prominent a part of its research activities than ever...

the Swedish carmaker continues to raise the safety bar for the entire industry.

The automotive industry continually conjures up its fair share of quotable quotes and ‘blue sky visions of what the future of cars will be.  

Truth be told though, if radical automotive change was as rapidly constructed as an Elon Musk tweet, the global vehicle fleet would look vastly different from what it does right now. You get used to these utopian views and accept that, sure, the future will indeed be an exciting landscape for the industryI look forward to seeing it all come together. One day. 

But upon hearing Volvo’s Vision 2020 mission statement – presented almost a decade ago now – it still managed to resonate as one of the most impactful statements ever uttered and remains so today. Think about this for a second: 
“By 2020, no person should be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo car. 
Not wishing to take anything away from the promised ideals of personalised space travel, autonomous driving and the hyperloop future. But2020. That’s six months from now.  

More importantly, in New Zealand alone, 150 people will tragically be killed on our roads within that same time frame. Yet this vision is no stretch of the imagination; it is a completely realistic goal for the Swedish carmaker.  

We should all be a little relieved at this, whether we drive their cars or not. Because Volvo isn’t secretive about its innovations. It has been sharing its safety technology with the wider automotive industry now for 60 years. 

A quick history lesson: Sixty years ago, in 1959, Volvo invented the three-point safety belt. Considered one of the most important safety inventions in automotive history, the three-point belt is estimated to have saved over one million lives globally.  

And not just in Volvos, obviously. From the outset, the manufacturer decided it would share its invention in the interests of improving traffic safety all over the world. Since then it has continued to prioritise societal progress over financial gain alone. 

To celebrate this milestone and to underline the idea that its tradition of shared expertise goes beyond patents and physical products, Volvo Cars recently launched Project EVA; an initiative that leverages Volvo’s 40 years of detailed real-world crash analytics to help overcome fundamental issues with inequality in terms of car safety development. 

“This means our cars are developed with the aim to protect all people, regardless of gender, height, shape or weight, beyond the ‘average person’ represented by [traditional] crash test dummies,” says Lotta Jakobsson, professor and senior technical specialist at Volvo Cars Safety Centre. 

Case in point: Volvo’s data shows that women are 40% more likely to be injured in accidents. This is in no small part due to the fact that crash test dummies – those unfortunately-tasked mannequins that help carmakers develop more resilient vehicle structures – are predominately ‘male’ in design. 

Volvo on the other hand, cross references its own crash test data with tens of thousands of real-life accidents its researchers have recorded, helping ensure Volvo’s cars are as safe as they can be for what happens in the real-world.   

Volvo is now sharing its digital library of data so all carmakers can fine tune their safety technology and virtual crash test dummy modelling to better understand these accidents and develop safety technologies that helps to protect both men and women in an equal way.  

The brand has also confirmed the next phase in the 2020 vision will be minimising impacts from speeding, impaired and distracted driving. Apart from speeding (which the company aims to help combat with a top speed limit to be introduced during 2020), intoxication and distraction are two other primary areas of concern for traffic safety. Together, these three areas constitute the main ‘gaps’ in Volvo’s vision of a future with zero traffic fatalities. 

To help arrest these shortcoming, Volvo will introduce cameras which are capable of detecting if a driver is impaired or distracted, starting with the next generation of Volvo’s scalable SPA2 vehicle platform in the early 2020s. 
Effectively, the car will be able to intervene if an intoxicated or distracted driver does not respond to warning signals and is risking an accident involving serious injury or death. That intervention could involve limiting the speed, alerting the Volvo on Call assistance service where available and, as a final course of action, actively slowing down and safely parking the car. 

“When it comes to safety, our aim is to avoid accidents altogether rather than limit the impact when an accident is imminent and unavoidable,” says Henrik Green, Senior Vice President, Research & Development at Volvo Cars. 

The company also wants to start the conversation about whether car makers have the right or maybe even the obligation to install technology in cars that changes driver behaviour.  

Put aside the luxurious interiors, that simple Scandi stylishness or their robust build quality for a second; another great thing about Volvo cars is that being a carmaker seems almost a secondary task to Volvo at this point.  

Its reason for being is saving lives. Building safe cars and helping others build safer cars too – not for the distant future, but for today – turns out to be the very best way it can work to achieve its Vision 2020 goals. 

Words by Steve Vermeulen 

Photos by Volvo 

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