At Volvo Car Corporation, the corporate vision for the design and engineering process of its products is that, ultimately, the company will build vehicles that should not crash. While this is a vision the company has for the future, in the shorter term, Volvo Cars envisions no one killed or injured in a Volvo vehicle in the year 2020.
"We don't accept that people lose their lives in airplane accidents, so why should we regard traffic collisions as inevitable?" says Jan Ivarsson, head of Safety Strategy at the Volvo Cars.
The World Health Organisation estimates that some 1.2 million people are killed and more than 50 million are wounded in automobile collisions every year. With an ever-increasing number of vehicles on the road, these figures are expected to rapidly increase if no action is taken. Volvo Cars is determined to continue leading the industry in the field of safety by using its vision of a collision-free future as a guiding principle.
"Continuous research and enhancement of safety in and around our vehicles will be essential for achieving a safer driver environment and a collision-free future," Ivarsson continues. "In this aim, we invite fruitful cooperation with authorities and the automotive industry."
Since its formation in 1970, the Volvo Cars Accident Research Team has investigated more than 36,000 collisions involving Volvo vehicles. The team fills a database with information about the crashed cars to evaluate the performance of existing protective safety systems and gather data on the need for updates or new systems. Just as important as what happens during a crash is the understanding of why a collision occurred in the first place. In this regard, the Research Team also studies the driving environment and interviews the people involved to better understand driver behaviour.
It's this knowledge gained from real world traffic collisions that has led Volvo Cars to design vehicles with a very high level of safety for real world collisions and developing new technologies to help drivers better avoid collisions.
"With more and more advanced technology, we design vehicles that help the driver avoid collisions and hopefully also avoid exposure to dangerous situations," says Ivarsson.
To further address situations that might lead vehicles to collide, the Volvo Cars safety research and development strategy includes a broader view of the subject than traditionally focusing simply on collisions.
Even though the technology to design a collision-free traffic environment is not in place yet, the safety experts at Volvo Cars say they have created a path for the company to get there. To do this, the engineers and designers must look into the driver's whole journey, from everyday driving to post collision. This journey can be divided into five phases and during each step there's an opportunity to enhance safety:
Phase 1: Normal driving - Driver kept informed on the driving environment and driver concentration.
Phase 2: Conflict - Driver enters a potentially hazardous situation, yet is able to cope with it through emergency avoidance manoeuvres.
Phase 3: Avoidance - Driver less capable of coping with the situation without assistance.
Phase 4: Damage reduction - Driver and vehicle are incapable of avoiding a collision and actions are taken to prepare for the collision and to potentially reduce crash forces.
Phase 5: Post collision - Driver offered assistance and rescue.
Volvo Cars also follows the principle that the driver should always be in command. The preventive safety systems of the vehicle should support the driver, for instance by monitoring drowsiness or distraction. The vehicle's systems can also warn the driver when the distance to other vehicles is too short. It is not until the driver fails to react and a collision is imminent or unavoidable that the vehicle autonomously engages systems - such as the brakes - to potentially avoid or minimize the effects of a collision. Lowered impact speed leads to less crash energy, which increases the performance of the vehicle's protective safety systems such as seat belts, airbags and crumple zones. As well, Volvo Cars plans to introduce safety technologies in the near future that make it possible to detect and auto-brake for pedestrians and even auto-steer away from oncoming vehicles.
With this new vision, Volvo Cars challenges not only itself but also the automotive industry and governments, as a collision-free future cannot be obtained by one company or organization alone. Safer traffic has three main stakeholders: the automotive manufacturers, the drivers and the groups in charge of the infrastructure.
"There is considerable safety potential in creating communication between vehicles and infrastructure," explains Ivarsson. "Two vehicles could, for example, warn each other of queues or slippery roads. Infrastructure sensors could warn the driver of people or animals crossing the road."
This requires that all vehicles speak the same language regardless of brand, so international standards are needed.
Ultimately, though, the driver and passengers must also understand the importance of following traffic rules and using the vehicle's safety equipment.
"The three-point safety belt, invented by Volvo, was introduced as standard equipment nearly 50 years ago," says Ivarsson. "At that time, we believed it was so important to mankind that we offered the patent entirely free of charge to all manufacturers. It is still regarded as the most life-saving safety equipment in cars. Nevertheless, many people still do not use it. There is still a lot we can do to inform people about safety in the vehicles of today."
Volvo Cars of Canada Corp. is part of the Volvo Car Corporation of Göteborg, Sweden. The company provides marketing, sales, parts, service, technology and training support to the 42 Volvo automobile retailers across the country. The company's product range includes the stylish and sporty C30, the elegant C70 hardtop convertible, the compact S40 sedan, the S60 sport sedan, the S80 flagship sedan and the versatile V50 and V70 wagon. For customers looking for a Volvo vehicle with all-road capability, the company offers the versatile XC70 and XC90. Volvo Canada is also expanding its line-up with the introduction of the new XC60, a crossover with the award-winning City Safety system on the standard equipment list.
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