Knowledge saves lives.
For thirty years, the Volvo Traffic Accident Research Team has therefore studied more than 30,000 accidents in the most crucial environment of all when it comes to car safety: the real traffic environment.
The story of Volvo Traffic Accident Research Team began in the 1960s. Soon after Volvo engineer Nils Bohlin had invented the three-point belt and Volvo Cars had introduced it as standard in the front seats, a comprehensive survey was conducted on reductions in injuries.
The survey was carried out in 1966 and included all accidents in Sweden involving a Volvo over a one-year period.
The result suggested that the belt reduced injuries by 50 per cent. Volvo realised then that knowledge of what really happened to the car and its occupants in an accident was a valuable part of product development. So in 1970, the decision was taken to set up a Traffic Accident Research Team – and it has been working continuously ever since.
"The call for real know-how has not declined over the years, however much we may have refined our working procedures," says Hans Norin, traffic accident researcher at Volvo Cars.
Depth and breadth
Volvo accident researchers work with both depth and breadth.
In-depth studies of individual accidents provide multi-faceted insights – about the complex mechanisms in different accident types, about how the safeguard systems in the cars function and about how the people sitting in the cars are injured.
In parallel with this, wide-ranging statistics are being gathered in order to establish the know-how required to map out the probability of a certain accident type occurring. This means that Volvo Cars can determine valuable priorities in the development of its new cars.
In order to gain correct information about what may have happened in an accident, detailed studies are required – starting at the scene of the accident.
Every time a serious accident involving a Volvo occurs within a 100-km radius of Göteborg, the Traffic Accident Research Team is alerted via the official emergency switchboard – day or night.
At least one person from Volvo Cars goes to the scene. If possible, the police postpone moving the vehicles until Volvo Cars’ technicians have arrived. This allows them to conduct a general study, which is documented with measurements and photographs. The police, witnesses and, if possible, those directly involved are all interviewed.
After this, the car is transported to a workshop or to Volvo Cars Safety Centre for further detailed analysis.
At the same time, other valuable information is gathered – about the occupants and their injuries, for example.
When all the information is available, the material is analysed by staff from the Volvo Cars Safety Centre, the design departments and medical expertise.
The collection of statistics follows different procedures. The purpose here is to establish a body of statistical accident data that can provide an idea of which types of injury arise in conjunction with which types of accident, for example.
This is done through follow-up of international statistics and an overall study of the most severe accidents in Sweden with a Volvo involved.
Each year, about 50,000 claims are submitted to Volvo’s Swedish insurance company, Volvia. About fifteen damage inspectors study the most serious cases on behalf of the company.
All cases where the cost of repair exceeds a certain level (SEK 35 000 today) undergo special study on behalf of the Traffic Accident Research Team.
The documentation, which includes photographs of the exterior and interior of the car, is sent to the Traffic Accident Research Team on an on-going basis. Taken as a whole, this covers between 1,500 and 2,000 accidents per year.
This information is then the point of departure for comprehensive follow-up of the accident.
Volvo’s co-workers gather background information from the scene of the accident, the accident sequence and injuries.
Each accident is also followed up with documentation of the vehicle and interviews with occupants.
Knowledge is the key
The basic rule for the Traffic Accident Research Team is that the more information that can be obtained, the better. The purpose of their work is to learn more about accidents and their consequences, knowledge that can subsequently be applied in product development.
"Over our years of working on safety we have become good at communicating – and getting people to listen to – the know-how that the Traffic Accident Research Team generates," says Hans Norin.
"Without that, we would never succeed in making the cars of the future even safer. Many of the safety systems in Volvo cars have been developed on the basis of know-how gathered from real accidents by the Volvo Traffic Accident Research Team."
Examples of these include the SIPS side impact protection system, improved offset characteristics and child safety equipment.
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