As the end of the year approaches, so does the usual holiday revelry. It’s a good time to look at how we drive and what that means for our friends and loved ones.
Impaired driving, whether from a variety of influences or just fatigue, is extensive. Each year there are approximately 300-400 fatalities on the American road, with another 20,000 non-fatal but disabling injuries, on New Year's Day alone! The numbers are even greater for the period around the Christmas.* During the holidays we always see a spike to such incidences.
Without question, this time of year should not only be one of celebration, but one of reflection and a cause for action, on behalf of everyone.
There was a recent article in an auto industry trade publication that should give me cause for alarm, but it doesn't. The story, entitled "Other Automakers Crash Volvo's Safety Party,"…is just another example that Safety has made it to the mainstream.
Representing a brand that is renowned for Safety, I gladly welcome the rest of the industry to our long-running party that began with our existence, in 1927. Protecting life is engrained in Swedish culture.
Not very long ago in the U.S., Safety was virtually unheard of in automotive commercials or marketing materials. Now, it's the basis for entire campaigns. Safety has emerged – today Safety sells cars.
During the 1960's there was a great public resistance to the three point safety belt (a Volvo invention). They were considered restrictive, uncomfortable, not attractive, and impractical.
Nonetheless, Volvo made this safety device standard on all of its models, beginning in 1959.
Like many good ideas encountering bumpy roads in the beginning, at one point in the sixties consumers chose optional white wall tires over the safety belt option, four to one. In 1972, wearing seat belts became a law in the United States.
Today seat belts are standard on all cars and trucks in this country, and are mandatory in most states. Safety belts are credited with saving about 150,000 lives, annually.
We like to think there's a little bit of Sweden and Volvo in every car on the road.
Today technology, research, and insight from real world experience has led to innovation after innovation in protecting drivers, passengers, as well as pedestrians.
The signals are clear; the industry is driving to make the nation's 'can't-do-without' conveyance as safe as possible.
Competition is a good thing. That is why I see positives to other automakers "joining our safety party," because ultimately we all benefit. In fact, we welcome all comers, for we are not resting on our laurels.
Volvo was recently named in a survey by a respected industry marketing firm as the brand consumers think of most when asked about auto safety. The study found Volvo to be equated with Safety by across all categories.
However, leadership does not mean looking in your rear-view mirror,…it's characterized by innovation.
Looking at the degree of 'distraction', packaged with the holiday season, Volvo announced a "world breakthrough" Driver Alert system to aid drivers who lose concentration, or become fatigued while driving.
First, there was a focus on "Passive Safety," whereby safety features were aimed at protecting the occupants now the emphasis is on "Active Safety" – the avoidance of an accident.
In the last few years, Volvo has explored impaired driver technologies, and we've developed "Sleepy Driver" applications. Other in the industry can also be credited with Accident avoidance research and development,…again, a benefit to us all.
Volvo's next generation "Activity Safety" concept, Driver Alert, monitors the car’s movements and assesses whether the vehicle is being driven in a controlled or uncontrolled manner. Driver Alert is unique among vehicle manufacturers.
The system doesn't record human behavior – which varies from one person to another – instead it looks at the effect of that behavior.
According to the American NHTSA (National Traffic Safety Administration), annually about 100,000 accidents are caused by drivers who fall asleep at the wheel. About 1,500 result in fatalities and unfortunately 71,000 lead to injuries. **
To personalize the significance of this technology I'll draw an illustration:
It is another of those endless days, as they often seem to be this time of year.
You are heading home from an office party or hurrying to pick up or drop off the kids for yet another of their activities; or scampering off to do last minute shopping – all of which with one thing in mind, putting an end to your extreme day. And that driver next to you is probably in the same circumstance as you.
In this situation, neither you nor the other driver is truly fit to drive. You are fatigued and become distracted – your cell phone rings. The Driver Alert issues an audible signal plus visual warning before control over the car is lost.
From a technical viewpoint, Driver Alert consists of a camera, sensors and a processor. The camera, which is installed between the windshield and the interior rear-view mirror, continuously measures the distance between the car and the markings on the road surface. The sensors register the cars' movements. The processor stores the information and calculates whether the driver risks losing control over the car.
If the risks are assessed as high, the driver is alerted.
While the Volvo system is still a few years away from being in production vehicles, by continuously addressing these areas of obvious concern,...our nation's roads will be a safer place for all drivers and occupants.
Safety has become a battle ground,…and ultimately all consumers will benefit through better safety systems to protect those family, friends and total strangers.
- Clive Bengtsson
Volvo Crash Tester
Who is Clive Bengtsson?
* National Safety Council
** National Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
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