For Volvo Car Corporation, the company's vision is that the vehicles of the future should simply avoid collisions. Some of today's vehicles are already so advanced that they alert the driver or even apply the brakes to help an inattentive driver avoid a collision.
Statistics show drowsy drivers cause collisions the world over. Yet for investigators, it's sometimes difficult to ascertain with certainty if it is a tired driver who has caused a collision, so the true extent of the problem is largely hidden. What is clear, however, is that drowsy drivers are a large - and global - traffic-safety problem.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), approximately 100,000 collisions are caused in the US alone by drivers falling asleep behind the wheel. As a result, approximately 1,500 drivers and passengers are killed and 70,000 are injured.
The situation in Europe is similar. German insurance organisation GDV's statistics reveal that about 25 per cent of all fatal autobahn collisions are caused by tired or drowsy drivers.
Collisions outside cities more common
Collisions due to drowsiness occur more often outside cities than other single-vehicle collisions, and just over 70 per cent of all sleep-related collisions take place on roads where the speed limit is between 70 and 110 kilometres an hour (Anna Anlund, VTI, the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute).
Volvo Cars has developed technology that can alert a drowsy driver long before they doze off behind the wheel. The system is called Driver Alert Control and it immediately registers if the vehicle is being driven in an uncontrolled manner by monitoring how the vehicle moves between the painted road markings.
Driver Alert Control is aimed primarily at situations where the danger of losing concentration is high and where a collision would have serious consequences. For example, on a straight, flat, monotonous stretch of road where speeds are higher and the driver feels increasingly relaxed.
Another common cause of collisions is distraction. A mobile phone may suddenly ring or the driver may drop something and start looking for it. According to the NHTSA, distracted drivers are the cause of 40 per cent of all collisions where the vehicle runs off the road.
Run-off-the-road collisions often fatal
Run-offs account for just over 20 per cent of all collisions and almost 40 per cent of all fatal collisions, according to US statistics (NTHTSA, 2003). Statistics from other countries also show that run-offs figure heavily in serious collisions.
In order to reduce the risk of run-off-the-road collisions Volvo Cars has developed Lane Departure Warning which monitors the road via a camera fitted in the windscreen near the rear-view mirror. If the vehicle strays beyond a lane marker without the turn signal being activated, a warning sound automatically alerts the driver.
Rear-end collisions are common
Rear-end collisions are a common occurrence and account for 29 per cent of all collisions reported to the police in the US. In about half of all rear-end collisions, the driver did not brake prior to impact.
These collisions, which often take place at low speeds, do not always lead to serious injuries but they can cause debilitating soft tissue neck injuries. The Volvo City Safety system, which is active up to 30 km/h, can help avoid or reduce the consequences of rear-end collisions.
City Safety helps avoid or reduce the consequences of a collision at low speed by automatically braking and at the same time restricting the throttle. In addition, the brake lights are activated to warn following traffic. The system is programmed to respond to vehicles in front that are either stationary or are moving in the same direction. City Safety is standard equipment on the new Volvo XC60.
Based on the vehicle's speed and the gap to the vehicle in front, the system calculates the amount of braking power required to avoid a collision. If the calculated braking force exceeds a given level without the driver reacting, the danger of a collision is regarded as imminent and the system automatically steps in. If the driver applies the brakes or throttle or turns the steering wheel, City Safety does not engage.
Next-generation avoidance systems
Volvo Cars is currently developing its next-generation Collision Avoidance By Auto Steering (CAAS) to help prevent run-off collisions. The system monitors oncoming traffic with cameras and radar. If the vehicle inadvertently leaves its lane and the driver does not respond to the warning signal, the system boosts steering force to help bring the vehicle back to its original lane.
Frontal collisions often lead to serious consequences. In Germany, frontal collisions account for 5 per cent of all collisions and 20 per cent of all fatal collisions. Emergency Lane Assist - like CAAS, which helps inattentive drivers keep the vehicle in the lane by boosting steering force - can help reduce their frequency. This technology will be found in forthcoming Volvo models.
One of the more common causes of collisions in cities is pedestrians stepping onto the roadway. In the US, more than 11 per cent of all traffic fatalities are with pedestrians and in Japan, this scenario accounts for about 30 per cent of all fatal collisions.
Volvo Cars is currently working on advanced technology to reduce the severity or avoid collisions with pedestrians in urban environments. The new approach utilises both radar and camera technology. The aim is to identify pedestrians and alert the driver so that he or she can take the necessary action to avoid a collision. If the driver does not react in time, the system automatically brakes the vehicle.
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 41 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 S80 flagship sedan and the versatile V50 and V70 wagons. For customers looking for a Volvo vehicle with all-road capability, the company offers the versatile XC60 crossover - equipped with City Safety as standard equipment - as well as the XC70 and XC90.
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