Volvo’s new safety drive

The Swedes say no one should die in a car crash, writes NEIL McDON­ALD

Herald Sun - Motoring - - News -

ON THE sur­face Volvo’s mis­sion state­ment to build cars that do not crash sounds like a Hol­ly­wood fan­tasy. It ranks up there with for­mer prime min­is­ter Bob Hawke’s 1987 state­ment that by 1990 no Aus­tralian child would live in poverty.

But the safe Swede is not play­ing pol­i­tics. It re­ally be­lieves that by 2020 no one should be killed or in­jured in a car with a Volvo badge and is tak­ing mea­sures to en­sure its ve­hi­cles com­ply.

It’s a vi­sion­ary dec­la­ra­tion, but one com­pany safety strat­egy boss Jan Ivars­son be­lieves is at­tain­able.

‘‘We don’t ac­cept that peo­ple lose their lives in plane ac­ci­dents, so why should we re­gard car ac­ci­dents as in­evitable?’’ he says.

The World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion says about 1.2 mil­lion peo­ple are killed and 50 mil­lion wounded in traf­fic ac­ci­dents ev­ery year.

By 2020 deaths from road ac­ci­dents are set to rise to 8.4 mil­lion.

Delve fur­ther and the WHO sta­tis­tics are re­veal­ing.

Road crashes rank ninth among the lead­ing causes of death world­wide, ac­count­ing for 2.8 per cent of all global deaths and dis­abil­ity.

And 50 per cent of all road fa­tal­i­ties in­volve peo­ple aged 15-44.

The fig­ures are sim­i­lar in Aus­tralia, where un­der 30 year-olds are over-rep­re­sented in fa­tal­ity sta­tis­tics and 22,000 peo­ple are se­ri­ously in­jured each year.

Though ap­plaud­ing the mer­its of the Volvo ini­tia­tive, Syd­ney road safety ad­vo­cate John Cado­gan is wary that some tech­nolo­gies could ‘‘dumb down’’ the skill of driv­ing.

‘‘And we don’t ed­u­cate driv­ers about what the real risks are, ei­ther. There are heaps of dis­tract­ing de­vices in cars and there is also that pesky con­cept that if you buy a safe car, you can drive a lit­tle more dan­ger­ously,’’ he says.

‘‘Psy­chol­o­gists call it risk home­osta­sis: that ev­ery­one’s pre­pared to ac­cept a cer­tain amount of risk.’’

He says some own­ers of re­ally safe cars could be pre­pared to take more lib­er­ties ‘‘be­cause you er­ro­neously as­sume the car will pro­tect you’’.

Cado­gan, who has a web­site called crash­pre­ven­tion.com.au, says there are eas­ily iden­ti­fi­able ar­eas of road safety con­cern, but few driv­ers worry about them.

‘‘In Aus­tralia 50 per cent of all road trauma oc­curs at in­ter­sec­tions . . . and it’s driver er­ror. Peo­ple think that the driver er­ror that leads to all this trauma is the guy who ploughs through a red light.

‘‘But it’s also an er­ror on the part of the driver who no­tion­ally has the right of way be­cause they don’t check that ev­ery­one else is com­ply­ing with the road rules.’’ ARMAKERS may be in­vent­ing ways of pre­vent­ing and avoid­ing ac­ci­dents and in­jury, but it still comes down to the driver, he says.

‘‘The big­gest thing hold­ing road safety back is driv­ers not giv­ing a toss about driv­ing,’’ he says.

‘‘They don’t think there is a much of a ben­e­fit to be de­rived from be­ing good at driv­ing.

‘‘Driv­ers don’t take the act of driv­ing se­ri­ously be­cause they don’t re­spect or have much ap­pre­ci­a­tion for how hard it can bite you.’’

An­other is­sue pe­cu­liar to Aus­tralia is the av­er­age age of our mo­tor­ing fleet is more than 10 years.

‘‘That means the av­er­age Aus­tralia is more than a decade out on safety tech­nol­ogy,’’ he says.

‘‘To­day’s cut­ting-edge ad­vances won’t re­ally get into the hands of the av­er­age driver un­til 2018. If Volvo

Cin 2020 pro­duces a car that you can’t die in, the av­er­age Aus­tralia won’t be driv­ing it un­til 2030 and a bit.

‘‘Many Aus­tralians are only just get­ting airbags and anti-skid brakes in their cars.’’

Cado­gan says there is no ques­tion road safety will im­prove dra­mat­i­cally if the age of the na­tional fleet is low­ered.

‘‘And our most vul­ner­a­ble driv­ers, our young driv­ers, are driv­ing the old­est, crap­pi­est and least safe cars, and they’re the ones more pre­dis­posed to crash­ing and in­jur­ing them­selves.’’

Volvo’s Ivars­son says con­tin­u­ous re­search and en­hance­ment of safety in and around cars is es­sen­tial for achiev­ing a safer driver en­vi­ron­ment and a col­li­sion-free fu­ture. ‘‘In this aim we in­vite co­op­er­a­tion with au­thor­i­ties and the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try,’’ he says.

The Volvo Cars Traf­fic Ac­ci­dent Re­search Team has in­ves­ti­gated traf­fic ac­ci­dents since 1970.

It is not alone in such re­search. Sev­eral other car­mak­ers, in­clud­ing Holden in con­junc­tion with the Monash Univer­sity Ac­ci­dent Re­search Cen­tre, have done sim­i­lar re­search.

Volvo’s ac­ci­dent data­base con­tains in­for­ma­tion about more than 36,000 ac­ci­dents in­volv­ing its cars.

By us­ing knowl­edge from real traf­fic sit­u­a­tions, it has learned how to de­sign cars that of­fer greater safety in a crash. Volvo also in­ves­ti­gates driver be­hav­iour to learn more about what can lead to haz­ardous sit­u­a­tions. Even if the tech­nol­ogy to de­sign a col­li­sion-free en­vi­ron­ment is not yet in place, Volvo’s safety ex­perts know what they want to achieve.

Among them are in­tel­li­gent cars that mon­i­tor drowsi­ness or dis­trac­tion and also warn driv­ers when they are too close to other cars and au­to­mat­i­cally brake if needed.

The lower im­pact speed leads to less crash en­ergy, which in turn in­creases the per­for­mance of the car’s pro­tec­tive safety sys­tems such as seat­belts, airbags and crum­ple zones.

Within a few years Volvo also plans to have safety tech­nolo­gies that de­tect and auto-brake for pedes­tri­ans and even steer away from on­com­ing cars.

How­ever, it recog­nises a col­li­sion-free fu­ture can­not be ob­tained with­out driv­ers, gov­ern­ments and the own­ers of road in­fra­struc­tures con­tribut­ing to safe traf­fic. T THIS point, though, Cado­gan says car­mak­ers have done more than driv­ers and gov­ern­ments to im­prove safety.

Ivars­son says co-op­er­a­tion be­tween road traf­fic au­thor­i­ties and the car in­dus­try is vi­tal.

But as Cado­gan points out, the per­son be­hind the wheel is the one mit­i­gat­ing fac­tor in all of this.

‘‘In an ideal world we would all be good driv­ers. ‘‘But we don’t live in an ideal world,’’ Cado­gan says.

A

Safety first: the Volvo XC60 with city safety gear and (left) head of safety de­vel­op­ment Jan Ivars­son.

Car that thinks for it­self: Volvo tests its ad­vanced driver aids to de­velop a fool­proof car, hop­ing one day to cut the road toll to a bare min­i­mum.

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