Carmaker promises a future where cars kill no-one and steer themselves out of a crash.

Cars shouldn’t crash. Ever. That’s the approach Volvo is now taking as it plans new technology which could, quite literally, steer drivers out of trouble. However, for now, the company has set itself the target of preventing all road deaths.

‘We don’t accept that people should lose their lives in airplane accidents, so why should we regard car accidents as inevitable,’ says Jan Ivarsson, Volvo’s head of safety strategy.

Soon Volvo plans to introduce technology that will make it possible for its car to detect and auto-brake for pedestrians and even steer away from oncoming cars. Volvo believes, however, that the driver should be in command as much as possible. The car’s on-board systems should support him or her, by monitoring drowsiness or distraction. It can also warn when the distance between the car and others is too short.

It is not until the driver fails to react and a collision is imminent that the car ‘takes over’ from the driving, for example by auto braking.

World Health Organisation estimates are that 1.2 million people are killed in traffic accidents each year and a further 50 million are hurt.

Volvo has investigated traffic accidents since 1970 and holds details of 36,000 collisions. But the company is now widening its view beyond what happens in accidents. They look at the driver’s journey and split the car’s role in safety into five stages:

Normal driving – driver told of car’s status and car monitors his concentration levels

Conflict – driver encounters a potential hazard, but can deal with it

Avoidance – driver less capable of coping

Damage Reduction – driver and car cannot avoid collision. Preparation for collision, reduction of crash forces

After collision – driver offered assistance and rescue

Governments and car makers need to work together to establish systems that enable communication between cars and traffic systems and Volvo is lobbying for this. ‘Two cars could warn each other of queues or slippery roads,’ says Jan Ivarsson. ‘Sensors (built into the road) could warn the driver of people or animals crossing.’

But for this to be effective, cars of all makes must ‘speak’ the same language, says Volvo.

Stephen Jury


July 28, 2008

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