Volvo Cars has revealed a new step in its ambition to end fatalities in its cars by addressing the issues of intoxication and distraction.
Apart from speeding, which the company aims to help combat with a top speed limit, intoxication and distraction are two other primary areas of concern for traffic safety. Together, these three areas constitute the main ‘gaps’ in Volvo’s vision of a future with zero traffic fatalities, which they say requires “a focus on human behaviour in the company’s safety work”.
For example, figures by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the USA show that almost 30 per cent of all traffic fatalities in the United States in 2017 involved intoxicated drivers.
Volvo believes intoxication and distraction should be addressed by installing in-car cameras and other sensors that monitor the driver and allow the car to intervene if a clearly intoxicated or distracted driver does not respond to warning signals and is risking an accident involving serious injury or death.
That intervention could involve limiting the car’s speed, alerting the Volvo On Call assistance service and, as a final course of action, actively slowing down and safely parking the car.
“When it comes to safety, our aim is to avoid accidents altogether rather than limit the impact when an accident is imminent and unavoidable,” says Henrik Green, Senior Vice President, Research & Development at Volvo Cars. “In this case, cameras will monitor for behaviour that may lead to serious injury or death.”
Examples of such behaviour include a complete lack of steering input for extended periods of time, drivers who are detected to have their eyes closed or off the road for extended periods of time, as well as extreme weaving across lanes or excessively slow reaction times.
A driver-monitoring system as described above is “an important element of allowing the car to actively make decisions in order to help avoid accidents that could result in severe injuries or death”.
“There are many accidents that occur as a result of intoxicated drivers,” says Trent Victor, Professor of Driver Behaviour at Volvo Cars. “Some people still believe that they can drive after having had a drink, and that this will not affect their capabilities. We want to ensure that people are not put in danger as a result of intoxication.”
Introduction of the cameras on all Volvo models will start on the next generation of Volvo’s scalable SPA2 vehicle platform in the early 2020s. Details on the exact number of cameras and their positioning in the interior will follow at a later stage.
This announcement, says Volvo, “should be viewed together with the company limiting the top speed on all its cars to 180kph (112mph) from model year 2021, in order to send a strong signal about the dangers of speeding”.
The Scandinavian car maker wants to start a conversation about whether car manufacturers have the right, or maybe even the obligation, to install technology in cars that changes their drivers’ behaviour. Both the speed limit and the installation of in-car cameras “illustrate how car makers can take active responsibility for the aim of achieving zero traffic fatalities by supporting better driver behaviour”.
Volvo also revealed the Care Key, which will allow any Volvo owner to set a speed limit for themselves, their family members or friends. The Care Key will come as standard on all Volvo cars from model year 2021. Owners will be able to set limitations on the car’s top speed before lending their car to other family members or to younger and inexperienced drivers such as teenagers who have only just obtained their driver’s licence.
Håkan Samuelsson, Volvo Cars’ President and Chief Executive, said: “we believe that a car maker has a responsibility to help improve traffic safety. Our recently announced speed limit fits that thinking, and the Care Key is another example.
“Many want to be able to share their car with friends and family, but are unsure about how to make sure they are safe on the road. The Care Key provides one good solution and extra peace of mind.”
Beyond the potential safety benefits, features such as a speed limit and the Care Key are also likely to offer Volvo drivers a financial benefit. The company is currently inviting insurance companies in several markets to offer special, favourable insurance rates to Volvo owners using these safety features.
Specific deals and terms will depend on local market circumstances, but Volvo Cars expects to announce the first of several agreements with national insurance firms soon.
“If we can encourage and support better behaviour with technology that helps drivers to stay out of trouble, that should logically also have a positive impact on insurance premiums,” said Samuelsson.
The Care Key, the monitoring cameras, the speed limit as well as existing driver-assistance systems all serve one single aim says Volvo: to support safer driving.