The ‘Volvo-lution’ of safety

September 6, 2020

The Swedish car maker was just getting started when it invented the three-point seat belt in 1959

WITHOUT ANY DOUBT, Scandinavian nameplate Volvo Cars has long been recognized as one of the global leaders in automotive safety. The car manufacturer has had a long history of major contributions to modern car safety technologies, with the three-point safety belt (invented by Volvo engineer Nils Bohlin back in 1959) being perhaps the most important invention in the history of automotive safety thus far.

And ever since its invention 61 years ago, Volvo offered it as standard safety equipment installed in the front seats of all its models. By this time (2020), researchers suggest that it is estimated to have already saved over one million lives of motorists around the world (and not just of people inside Volvo cars). The universal benefit stems from the fact that Volvo had decided to share the simple but effective invention with the rest of the world, in the interest of improving overall traffic safety. Simply put, the company prioritized common safety over financial gain — which is a noble move, considering that the automotive industry is a highly competitive one.

As early as the 1960s, Volvo already carried out data-gathering projects that collected information about accidents that involved its cars. This eventually paved the way for the creation of Volvo’s official Accident Research Team in 1970, whose crucial safety research data were openly shared with the rest of the automotive community. Come 2019, Volvo continued its (then) 60-year long tradition of sharing car safety research with the rest of the world, through its Project EVA. This is testament to the fact that Volvo’s priorities go far beyond patents and physical products. They are meant to pave the way towards achieving zero road fatalities in the years to come.

You can easily see the sincerity in Volvo’s intentions because the badge consistently develops new technology not merely to satisfy regulatory tests, but more often to show others where else safety can be improved. In the 1980s, Volvo’s safety research began to focus more on side impacts. As a result of these studies, its side impact protection system (SIPS) was developed and implemented in 1991. Side air bags and inflatable curtains became the next new thing for the company in that decade. And different iterations of these innovations — which are mostly, if not all, based on Volvo’s data — now form a huge part of the current industry standard when it comes to safety equipment.

Other world firsts in safety that were demonstrated by Volvo Cars include: the rearward-facing child seat (1972), the whiplash protection system (1998), roll stability control (2002), pedestrian detection with full auto brake (2010), run-off road protection (2014), and lots more.

Speaking of which, it is worth mentioning that the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s New Car Assessment Program for 2021 recently awarded 11 Volvo cars with five-star safety ratings for 2021. These Volvo models include the 2021 S60 T5, S60 T6 AWD, V60 T5, XC40 T5 AWD, V60 T5 AWD Cross Country, XC40 T4, XC60 T5, XC90 T6 AWD, and XC90 Recharge T8 eAWD.

“Volvo has always been and always will be about people, which means safety is our number-one priority,” explained Volvo Cars USA President and CEO Anders Gustafsson.

The latest Volvo vehicles are always great because the cars themselves keep a safe distance from other vehicles in front of them. They also help check on vehicles behind you, via their modern blind spot sensor technology. And if collisions appear to be imminent, the cars have protocols to warn their drivers. And if none of those work, Volvo cars still have a layer of passive safety features which are meant to mitigate the graver consequences of a crash, via its advanced air bags, seat belts, safety cage, etc.

Volvo is also recognized as among the creators of the safest cars on the road, thanks in part to the development of its active safety technologies, which include its award-winning City Safety system with autobrake technology (which are now standard on all new Volvo cars). This new technology helps the car better recognize pedestrians, cyclists, and even large animals which may be in its path.

Lastly, I would also like to mention an aspect of Volvo’s research into car safety that has largely impressed me — and it has to do with the company’s recognition of the fundamental issue of inequality in the general field of car safety development.

You see, women are usually at greater risk for injuries during a car crash (simply because a woman’s anatomy is different from a man’s, and there are certain inherent differences in, say, a woman’s neck strength compared to a man’s, which may make her more susceptible to whiplash injuries, among others).

To address this, Volvo created virtual crash test dummies and tried to find the middle ground to protect both males and females in an equal way. So if you would notice, Volvo cars have unique-looking seats and head restraints — because they incorporate Volvo’s whiplash protection architecture (called WHIPS), which was already introduced as far back as 1998.

And more recently, Volvo’s gathered data seem to be pointing to more lumbar spine or lower-back injuries. As a response to this, Volvo created tech that was first shown in the XC90, that is now also available on all SPA-based cars — which is a special energy absorber in seats, that helps mitigate such injuries. The inclusion of these kinds of sophisticated safety features clearly go beyond what are government regulatory requirements — and show that passenger safety is of utmost priority to the brand.

“Our cars are developed with the aim to protect all people, regardless of gender, height, shape or weight, beyond the average person represented by crash test dummies,” said Volvo Cars Safety Center Professor and Senior Technical Specialist Lotta Jakobsson.

Wouldn’t the world be a better place to drive in if all car producers had a mindset like Volvo?

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