Knowhow saves lives.
The Volvo Cars accident research commission has therefore investigated more than 30,000 accidents over a period covering more than 30 years.
Samir Ladraa was in one of these many thousands of cars.
Samir Ladraa and his friend were on their way from Sweden’s capital, Stockholm, to Umeå in the far north of the country one cold and slippery winter night in March 2003.
In the dim dawn light, the driver lost control of his Volvo S60, which skidded across
the road into the opposite lane.
An oncoming car hit the Volvo’s right side just a few decimetres from Samir, who was sitting in the front passenger seat.
“Everything turned black and quiet. I woke up twenty minutes later. I was surprised that I was still alive,” recalls Samir.
Although the side impact took place at high speed, Samir got off with minor injuries: slight concussion, a few bruises, a few scrapes and scratches.
A few months have passed since then, and he is now being given the unique opportunity to see the accident being recreated at the Volvo Cars Safety Centre.
The reason is that the experts at Volvo had decided to conduct an in-depth analysis of this particular collision.
“The side impact took place at high speed. This gave us the opportunity to study how well our protective systems functioned,” explains Thomas Broberg, deputy head of the Volvo Cars Safety Centre.
The study included both a thorough analysis of the actual accident at the scene itself and
a reconstruction of the sequence in the crash-test laboratory.
“By recreating the accident in our laboratory, we can compare deformation as well as impact force and other parameters with what happened to the car and its occupants in the accident itself. This knowhow is a vital link in the drive to develop safer cars,” says Thomas Broberg.
Started in the 1960s
The Volvo Cars accident research commission traces its roots to the 1960s.
A few years after Volvo engineer Nils Bohlin invented the three-point safety belt and Volvo Cars had introduced this safety feature as standard in the front of all its models,
a comprehensive study was launched into the injury-reducing effects of the car safety belt.
This survey, which was carried out in 1966, encompassed every accident in Sweden involving a Volvo, for a period of one year.
The results indicated that the safety belt had reduced injuries by 50 percent.
Volvo immediately realised that insight into and understanding of what actually happens to the vehicle and its occupants in a collision are invaluable sources of information in helping to shape future product development. A decision was therefore taken in 1970 to establish an in-house accident research commission – which has remained in operation ever since.
“The need for experience from real-life accidents has not dropped in the intervening years,” says Thomas Broberg, “even though we have naturally refined and improved our working methods over the years.”
Depth and width
Volvo Cars’ accident researchers work both in-depth and across a wide spectrum.
In-depth studies of individual accidents provide multi-faceted knowledge – about the complicated mechanisms involved in various accident scenarios, about how the car’s protective systems function in real life and about the injuries suffered by the car’s occupants.
In parallel, the collection of statistics from a wide range of sources provides the knowledge needed to monitor the probability of a given type of accident occurring in the first place. In this way, Volvo Cars can make invaluable prioritisations in the development of new cars.
In order to obtain correct knowledge about what actually happened in a given accident,
it is necessary to perform an immensely thorough investigation at the accident site itself.
Every time a serious accident involving a Volvo takes place within a 100 kilometre radius of Göteborg on Sweden’s west coast – the research centre’s home base – the accident commission is notified by the SOS emergency response service, no matter the time of day or night.
At least one person from Volvo visits the accident site. If possible, the police delay removal of the cars involved until Volvo’s technicians arrive.
The technicians carry out a thorough investigation, which is documented with measurements and photographs. Interviews are carried out with the police, witnesses and if possible the drivers and passengers involved.
After this investigation, the car is transported to Volvo’s Safety Centre for further in-depth investigation.
Additional valuable information is gathered while all this is going on, for example relating to the car’s occupants and their injuries.
When all this information is available, the material is analysed by personnel from the Safety Centre, the relevant engineering departments and medical experts.
The collation of statistics follows a different pattern. Here, the aim is to build up
a statistical database of accident-related material which, after analysis, can be used to provide a clear picture of various factors, such as what type of personal injury occurs in a given accident scenario.
This takes place both through follow-up of international statistics and through comprehensive investigations of the worst accidents in Sweden involving a Volvo.
Every year, about 50,000 accidents are reported to Volvo’s Swedish insurance company, Volvia, which has about 15 assessment inspectors who investigate the most serious cases on behalf of the company.
All cases in which the repair cost exceeds a given level (currently corresponding to 35,000 Swedish kronor) are investigated specially at the request of the accident research commission.
All the documentation obtained, which includes photographs of the car’s exterior and interior, is sent to the commission on an ongoing basis. This process covers between 1500 and 2000 accidents a year.
This information serves as the starting-signal for comprehensive follow-up of the accident. Volvo’s experts now gather in background information from the accident site, the accident sequence and the resultant personal injuries.
Each accident is also followed up with documentation on the vehicles themselves as well as interviews with the car’s occupants.
Foundations built on knowhow
The accident research commission’s basic rule is: the more information it is possible to obtain, the better. The aim behind this process is to increase knowhow about accidents and their consequences – knowhow that can subsequently be harnessed in product development.
“During all these years of dedication to safety, we have become expert at translating the commission’s research work into practical benefits – and at getting people to listen to us,” comments Thomas Broberg.
“Because without the commission’s work, we would never succeed in making tomorrow’s cars even safer,” he concludes.
Many of the safety systems introduced into Volvo cars over the years developed out of the knowhow generated by Volvo Cars’ accident research commission in its studies of real-life accidents.
Not least among these are the SIPS side-impact protection system, improved offset collision performance and child-safety equipment.