It has been six decades since engineers at Volvo invented the three-point safety belt and effectively ushered in a new era of road safety. It may have been controversial at the time but fast-forward 60 years and the technology is estimated to have saved a million lives.
With the Covid-19 pandemic re-focussing people’s minds on their responsibilities to others, the company believes the time is to set out a series of new initiatives that it hopes can save a million more lives.
The headline grabber of these new moves is unquestionably this year’s introduction of a speed cap that limits all of its cars to 122 mph. It is also looking at how smart speed control and geofencing technology could automatically limit speeds near schools and hospitals in the future. Some owners may already have used Key Care? A system that allows you to programme your own speed cap: Does one of your children want to borrow the family S60? Well, with Key Care you can stop from taking unnecessary risks when taking their friends to the mall or beach.
Malin Ekholm, head of the Volvo Cars Safety Centre, says that the company learned with the seat belt that technology is not enough if you want people to change their attitudes to safety. You need a change in driving culture, greater education and regulatory support from governments. Cars may be safer than ever but that isn’t going to be enough to reach that target of a million more lives.
“Technology is what we use to address the issues. But it’s the combination of all the technology and also cooperation and collaboration. Education is super important because empowerment and knowing how to do the right thing – and what the right thing to do – is one of the very, very strong tools of improving traffic safety.
“You have to acknowledge that traffic safety varies across the globe but if we go back to the basics and really focus on getting that right we have taken a huge step towards safety. That means making (sure people are) using the safety belt in the correct way, making sure that our children are protected in the correct car seat for their age and size, making sure we’re driving at a safe speed.”
She adds that the Speed Cap is unlikely to be enough on its own.
“We have introduced the speed cap on all our cars, and it is an important action for us to take but we need to start talking about speed as an issue and doing the right thing. There is a very complex conversation that we need to have on the car manufacturer’s responsibility to influence people’s behaviour to make sure that we are driving at a safe speed.”
In Europe, at least, Volvo is not alone in wanting to address speed as a safety issue. By 2022, all new cars sold in the EU will need to be fitted with speed limiting equipment.
“It boils down to physics. The higher the speed, the higher the force; and the force is what hurts and potentially kills you. So yes, we need to have a speed conversation but apart from following the road sign speed. There are other challenges. There are road friction conditions, daylight, there’s weather; so we need to broaden the conversation on speed; making sure that we have the correct speed in whatever traffic situation were driving.”
The rise of smartphones and touch screens inside cars has sparked a growing debate around the dangers of distraction behind the wheel. But Volvo Cars’ approach to is to accept that distraction is a fact of life, and that technology should be used to support people in their daily commute.
The company’s own safety research and behavioural science work suggests that when used correctly, modern technology inside the car can actively reduce distraction, boost road safety and help people to be better and more focused drivers. Ekholm says it is easy to think that phones and screens are the only scourge of the modern driver, but life as a whole is distracting. “We know people do not get distracted on purpose, but it happens. You could be late for daycare and somewhat stressed. Or you get behind the wheel after a bad day at work. All this affects you as a driver.”