Volvo sets out its safety stall with exciting new initiatives for all OEMs to share

Volvo Cars held a global video presentation entitled Volvo Cars Moment on March 20, unveiling several exciting new safety initiatives and talking of ‘open sourcing’ safety-related data, for all OEMs and suppliers to access, reports Simon Duval Smith.

Speakers at the event included:
Håkan Samuelsson, President and CEO, Volvo Car Group
Henrik Green, Senior Vice President, Research and Development
Malin Ekholm, Vice President, Safety Centre
Lotta Jakobsson, PhD, Senior Technical Expert, Safety Centre
Jan Ivarsson, Senior Technical Advisor, Safety Centre
Trent Victor, Senior Technical Leader, Safety Centre
Ödgärd Andersson, Vice President of Vehicle Software and Electronics

Håkan Samuelsson said that the company wants to start a conversation about whether car makers have the right, or maybe even the obligation, to install technology in cars that changes their owners’ behaviour. Now that such technology is available to use, this question becomes even more important, he said.

Samuelsson talked of safety concerns for Volvo to reach its target of no-one seriously injured or killed in a Volvo vehicle by 2020, particularly highlighting the dangers of distracted driving and speed. He asked the question “Do we have the right or the obligation to let the car intervene in driving scenarios?“ Talking about the Care Key, a means of programming the car’s maximum speed for various family users, he said: “We believe that limiting our cars speed to 180 kms/hr is a signal to potential customers, to responsible drivers, to make the human-machine system safer. Let’s strengthen the ‘Club 180’." He pointed out that, "We are also celebrating 60 years of the three-point safety belt, we estimate this has saved more than a million lives, and not just in Volvo cars.”

Open sourcing safety

Volvo Cars is for the first time making its safety knowledge easily accessible in a central digital library which it urges the car industry to use, in the interest of safer roads for all.

The announcement symbolises the company’s philosophy of boosting safety through sharing knowledge that helps save lives, and comes on the 60-year anniversary of what may have been the most important invention in the history of automotive safety, the three-point safety belt.

Lotta Jakobsson, Professor and Senior Technical Specialist at the Volvo Cars Safety Centre took to the Volvo Moment stage and showed the timeline of safety technologies at Volvo. She said that it was very important to recognise that the three-point belt and other safety tech should accommodate all sizes, shapes and gender of vehicle users.

Real-world data has been collected by Volvo since 1970, including data collected from individual accidents.

“We have data on tens of thousands of real-life accidents, to help ensure our cars are as safe as they can be for what happens in real traffic,” said Jakobsson. “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 crash test dummies.”

Project E.V.A.

Project E.V.A. illustrates, based on Volvo Cars’ own research data as well as several other studies, that women are more at risk for some injuries in a car crash. Differences in, for example, anatomy and neck strength between the average man and woman mean that women are more likely to suffer from whiplash injuries.

Based on those studies and its own crash data, Volvo Cars created virtual crash test dummies to better understand these accidents and develop safety technologies that help to protect both men and women in an equal way. The first resulting technology was the WHIPS whiplash protection system introduced in 1998, which has contributed to the unique look of Volvo’s seats and head restraints.

In-car cameras to guard against human frailties

Apart from speeding, which the company aims to help combat with a top speed limit, intoxication and distraction are two other primary areas of concern for traffic safety. Together, these three areas constitute the main ‘gaps’ towards Volvo Cars’ vision of a future with zero traffic fatalities, and require a focus on human behaviour in the company’s safety work as well.

For example, figures by NHTSA show that in the United States, almost 30 per cent of all traffic fatalities in vehicles in 2017 involved intoxicated drivers.

Volvo Cars believes intoxication and distraction should be addressed by installing in-car cameras and other sensors that monitor the driver and allow the car to intervene if a clearly 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 car’s speed, alerting the Volvo On Call assistance service 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,” said Henrik Green. “In this case, cameras will monitor for behaviour that may lead to serious injury or death.”

Examples of such behaviour include a complete lack of steering input for extended periods of time, drivers who are detected to have their eyes closed or off the road for extended periods of time, as well as extreme weaving across lanes or excessively slow reaction times.

Dr Lotta Jakobsson, Senior Technical Specialist Injury Prevention
Dr Lotta Jakobsson, Senior Technical Specialist Injury Prevention
Volvo Cars Whiplash Protection System
Volvo Cars Whiplash Protection System

A driver-monitoring system as described above is an important element of allowing the car to actively make decisions in order to help avoid accidents that could result in severe injuries or death.

“There are many accidents that occur as a result of intoxicated drivers,” said Trent Victor. “Some people still believe that they can drive after having had a drink, and that this will not affect their capabilities. We want to ensure that people are not put in danger as a result of intoxication.”

Jan Ivarsson spoke of how proud Volvo is with how far it has come from the 2020 statement in 2007. He also addressed the issues of speeding, intoxication and distracted driving. He said that the 180 kms/hr cap may only save one life but the cost of that life is incalculable and this is at the foundation of Volvo’s philosophy going towards 2020. 

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