IAIN ROBERTSON 

Volvo crash safety

Volvo crash safety

Sometime Swedish, now Chinese brand, Volvo, has a long-standing and much-respected reputation for both the primary and secondary safety aspects of its motorcars but Iain Robertson feels that restricting speed might be one step too far.

Throughout its history, Volvo has been in the forefront of engineering safety into each and every model that it produces. The company pioneered the design and fitment of three-point safety belts in its cars, although both American Cadillac and former Swedish rival, Saab, had already developed lap belts as a means to control the movement of cabin occupants in the event of crashes. The three-point development has been adopted worldwide.

Every year, Volvo invests immense cash and time into safety research, which led it to formulating a 2020 marketing assertion that nobody in a Volvo would die from the result of a road traffic incident. Yet, it is worth noting that, while Volvo has enormous self-confidence in its talents and practices, it is not alone in making substantial progress into vehicular safety, which also has to include pedestrian and animal survival elements in the final renderings. All carmakers invest heavily in structural integrity, reducing torsional twist, which improves handling responses and overall refinement of their cars. Ascertaining the actual differences between them is a fine art that reveals no major advantage to Volvo.

Volvo crash recovery

Volvo crash recovery

Yet, Volvo nosed into the EU’s desire to introduce autonomous motoring, to become the manufacturer that would lead developments in removing the driver from the mix and thus the human element from vehicular accidents. Volvo has become a key player in ‘platooning’ technology, which involves lines of cruise-controlled vehicles driving on ‘smart’ motorways, without driver intervention, other than joining, or departing the platoons.

Now, each new Volvo car is equipped with a limited top speed of 112mph. Naturally, Volvo wanted to deliver on its promise made last year to introduce such a limitation that goes beyond regulation and legislation to help close the remaining gap to zero serious injuries and fatalities in traffic. However, while accepting that injudicious speed can play a tragic role in some types of motor related incidents, it is not always the case that ‘speed kills’, as it cannot per se. I would venture to suggest that Volvo is overstepping its responsibilities most arrogantly, especially as many of its latest models are also high-powered by the latest hybrid technology and are thus an expensive attraction to some sectors of the new car scene.

As well as the speed cap, every Volvo car also comes with a Care Key, which allows Volvo drivers to set additional limitations on the car’s top speed, for example before lending their car to other family members, or to younger and less experienced drivers. While accepting that these aspects may be safety related, perhaps those ‘at risk’ individuals either need to be trained better, or simply not drive expensive and upmarket models, until their experience levels have been built.

Volvo Care Key

Volvo Care Key

According to Volvo, its 112mph speed limitation and Care Key send a strong signal about the dangers of speeding, underlining Volvo Cars’ position as a worldwide leader in safety. Yet, in its arrogant haste, while accepting that carmakers can take active responsibility towards achieving zero traffic fatalities by supporting better driver behaviour, Volvo is also delving too deeply into the individual’s capabilities, thus breaching some aspects of civil liberty.

According to Malin Ekholm, head of the Volvo Cars Safety Centre, “We believe that a carmaker has a responsibility to help improve traffic safety. Our speed limiting technology and the dialogue that it has initiated, fits that thinking. The speed cap and Care Key help people to reflect and realise that speeding is dangerous, while also providing extra peace of mind and supporting better driver behaviour.”

Naturally, she would state that, when it forms part of Volvo’s overarching stance on road safety. Intriguingly, installing speed limiters in cars and on motorbikes is not a novelty. For many years, although the Green Party has been responsible for reducing the available routes, Germany has exercised its right to drive at unlimited speed, even though most of its vehicle production is limited (where feasible) to 155mph. The nation’s autobahn network is surprisingly free of major crashes, although they do occur. The top speed limit has proven to be controversial ever since it was announced, with many observers questioning the rights of car makers to impose such limitations through available technology.

Volvo crash testing

Volvo crash testing

However, Volvo Cars believes that it has an obligation to continue its tradition of being a pioneer in the discussion around the rights and obligations of car makers to take action that can ultimately save lives, even if this means losing potential customers. Personally, even though we have a maximum motorway speed of 70mph in the UK, with drivers caught exceeding the limit being fined heavily, innumerable other brands of executive cars have not made agreeable noises, or desires, to follow Volvo’s action.

If there is one key problem with speeding, is that above certain speeds, in-car safety technology and smart infrastructure design may not be able to avoid severe injuries and fatalities in the event of an accident. That it can be a contributory factor is why speed limits are in place in most western countries, although speeding remains ubiquitous and can be linked commonly to fatalities in traffic. Yet, millions of people receive speeding tickets every year, more usually for transgressions at 30, 40 and 50mph.

Research shows that, on average, people have poor understanding of the dangers surrounding speeding, which could be resolved by improvements in the driver education process. If they could be taught how to manage speed in relation to traffic conditions and the environment, many of both the misdemeanours and incidents would disappear. Some people do drive too fast and simply take no heed of sound advice.

Volvo platooning

Volvo platooning

On the other hand, intoxication, whether by booze, or drugs, and distractions are two other major areas of concern for traffic safety. They constitute the remaining gap in Volvo Cars’ vision of a future with zero traffic fatalities, or serious injuries, although the company is said to be taking action to address all three elements of human behaviour in its safety activities, with more features to be introduced in future new cars.

Conclusion:      If you believe that Volvo has overstepped the mark, you can exercise your veto by not buying into the brand. On the other hand, if 112mph is more than enough and this is just making a mountain from a molehill, it will probably make no difference at all.