In 1927 Volvo’s founders Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larson stated that “Cars are driven by people. Therefore the guiding principle behind everything we make at Volvo is – and must remain – safety.”
Since then Volvo Cars has introduced a number of ground-breaking technologies. To this day the three-point seat belt from 1959 is the single most effective lifesaver on the roads. Over the years Volvo’s cars have been equipped with an ever-growing list of safety solutions from crumple zones, safety cages, airbags and whiplash protection to systems for dynamic stability and driving control.
However, it is the interaction between the various safety systems and functions, not the individual components, that determines just how safe a car is. In a Volvo, safety is the result of a complete, integrated system. From the outset this holistic view has been a cornerstone of the Volvo Cars safety philosophy.
The driver is central
Volvo Cars’ development of safety solutions is based on three main approaches: the car, the traffic environment and the human being. The driver needs to be alert and have the ability to take quick decisions in stressful situations, which is often easier said than done.
“We focus on technologies that help the driver observe critical situations and avoid collisions. Traffic accidents should not be regarded as unavoidable. With the right technology, we can give the driver the support needed to help avoid accidents,” says Jonas Ekmark, manager of Preventive Safety at the Volvo Cars Safety Centre.
Analysis and development in five phases
With the aim of creating a sound basis continued development of safety technology from a human perspective, Volvo Cars is involved in far-reaching research based on real-life traffic situations. The Volvo Cars model and methodology for accident analysis means an extension of the traditional approach to traffic accident research by focusing on the entire sequence, divided into five phases – from non-conflict to post-crash. Based on these phases, the company develops and enhances its safety solutions – all of which are now gathered together in the new Volvo XC60.
Phase 1: Non-Conflict
In the first phase, the foundation is laid to help avoid critical situations. In Volvo’s cars it is a basic requirement that the driver must always have good visibility and that the chassis, engine, brakes and steering together give the driver the best possible control over the vehicle. The driver and passenger in-car environment is another important factor that affects well-being and attentiveness. Helping the driver not to use the car after drinking alcohol is yet another way of avoiding an accident at an early stage. In recent years, Volvo has also developed a range of new technologies that all help the driver maintain focus on the road.
• Alcoguard: A fully integrated alcolock utilising advanced fuel cell technology that is both user-friendly and very dependable.
• Driver Alert Control (DAC): Unique technology to warn tired and inattentive drivers. This system continuously monitors the car’s progress between the lane markings and notifies the driver if his or her driving pattern is erratic or slightly uncontrolled. The driver is thus alerted long before his or her eyelids start drooping, and also in the event of distraction caused by other factors, such as when talking on the phone.
• Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC): Adaptive cruise control that utilises radar sensors to continuously monitor the vehicle in front. It automatically adjusts speed to maintain a set distance behind the vehicle in front.
• Distance Alert (DA): Comfort-enhancing detail that helps the driver maintain the set time gap behind the vehicle in front even when the active cruise control is not activated.
• Blind Spot Information System (BLIS): A camera helps detect vehicles in the blind spot both in daylight and darkness. A warning lamp comes on near the side mirror to alert the driver.
• Intelligent Driver Information System (IDIS): Helps stop the driver from being distracted by non-essential information in pressing situations, for instance by delaying incoming phone calls or SMS text messages.
• Active Bi-Xenon Lights: Moving headlight beams that follow the curve of the road when cornering. For the best possible visibility when driving at night on twisting roads.
• Tyre Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS): A sensor and transmitter in each tyre valve monitors and sends continuous information about the tyre pressure in the tyre.
• Park Assist Camera (PAC) – rear: An advanced function that not only gives the driver an extra eye to the rear, it also shows the intended course prior to a reversing manoeuvre.
Phase 2: Conflict
A critical situation is imminent. The car might be about to skid or approaching a vehicle that is standing still. In such situations and others, preventive safety functions can step in to stabilise the car or alert the driver. In this way, the driver is given a better safety margin.
• Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC): A stability-enhancement system that helps reduce the risk of skidding by cutting the engine’s torque when necessary and applying properly calculated braking power. The function has been further developed in the new Volvo XC60 to register the car’s roll rate as well. This is highly noticeable in dynamic driving where the car is exposed to high lateral forces.
• Lane Departure Warning (LDW): Alerts the driver with a gentle warning sound if the car crosses one of the road markings without an obvious reason such as use of the turn indicator. This function thus helps prevent single-vehicle road departure accidents as well as head-on collisions caused by temporary distraction.
• Roll Stability Control (RSC): An active stability-enhancing system that calculates the risk of rolling over. If the system assesses the risk as high, engine torque is restricted and some braking force is applied to one or more wheels to counteract the rollover tendency.
• Collision Warning (CW): If the driver approaches another vehicle from the rear without reacting, a red warning light is projected on the windscreen at the same time as a warning buzzer sounds. This prompts the driver to respond to the danger and in most cases avoid an accident. This function is part of Collision Warning with Auto Brake which is detailed later in Phase 3.
• Trailer Stability Assist (TSA): Helps dampen the snaking motion that can occur when towing a trailer or caravan behind the car. Stabilization is obtained by braking one or more of the car’s wheels and by decreasing engine torque. TSA is an entirely new function that is being launched together with the Volvo XC60.
Phase 3: Avoidance/Mitigation
The accident is about to happen. The car in front may now be so close that severe braking is essential. Some of Volvo’s preventive safety functions can now step in and respond if the driver can no longer avoid the collision on his or her own. However, it is important to emphasise that new preventive safety technologies do not relieve the driver of the responsibility of driving safely.
• City Safety: This unique Volvo technology can help the driver avoid frontal collisions at low speeds. If the driver is about to drive into the back of a vehicle and does not react in time, the car will brake by itself. City Safety is being introduced as standard as a world-first in the new Volvo XC60.
• Collision Warning with Auto Brake (CWAB): A function that first warns via an audible and visible signal, then engages the brake pads to reduce the braking system’s response time, before braking automatically if a front collision against a moving or stationary vehicle is imminent.
• Emergency Brake Lamps (EBL): If the driver presses hard on the brake pedal, the high-positioned brake lights starts to flash for a short while and then turns into permanent light. When the car has stopped the hazard warning lights are turned on to alert traffic behind.
Phase 4: Crash
If a collision is unavoidable the most important thing is to minimise the injuries to the cars’ occupants. Volvo’s cars are designed to offer their occupants excellent collision protection. The car has advanced safety protection with safety belts, pre-tensioners, airbags, inflatable curtains and a strong safety cage. All in all, these advanced safety technologies help make a Volvo one of the safest cars in its class. At the same time, every Volvo is designed to be as gentle as possible on the occupants of other cars and on unprotected road-users.
• Reduction of impact speed. The collision is unavoidable – the autobrake feature reduces the speed of impact.
• Crumple zones: The front body structure in a Volvo car is divided into several zones, each with a different task in the event of a collision. The outer zones account for most of the deformation. The closer the impact energy gets to the passenger compartment, the less the material deforms. The aim is that the passenger compartment should remain as intact as possible to help protect the occupants.
• Lower cross-member that helps protects lower cars: The front suspension subframe in the new Volvo XC60 is supplemented with a lower cross-member positioned at the height of the beam in a conventional car. The lower cross-member strikes the oncoming car’s protective structure, activating its crumple zone as intended so the occupants can be given the maximum level of protection.
• Front that helps reduce pedestrian injuries: Volvos have energy-absorbing features including a well-proportioned, soft structure in front of the bumper. This helps counteract the risk of leg injuries. In addition, the bonnet has a raised shape and underneath there is a honeycomb structure that distributes the load in a similar way.
• Compact, transversely installed engines: All Volvo models feature a transverse driveline and front-wheel drive. Transverse installation of the engine frees more space for deformation and helps reduce the risk of penetration into the passenger compartment in a frontal collision.
• Three-point seat belt: In 1959 Volvo engineer Nils Bohlin invented the three-point seat belt which has been a Volvo standard ever since. The seat belt is today found in all car models, regardless of manufacturer, the world over. We therefore say that there is a little bit of Volvo in every car.
• Seat belt pre-tensioner: In a collision, pre-tensioners automatically tighten the belt across the body to reduce the seat occupant’s movement and help provide maximum protection.
• Pre-Prepared Restraints (PRS): PRS is yet another new function in the new Volvo XC60. A laser sensor interacts with other on-board technology and controls the airbags and adaptive seat belt load limiters to suit the severity of the collision. The PRS can thereby contribute to further reducing injuries.
• Airbags: Volvo Cars has continuously refined the technology to improve protection in both frontal and side impacts. For instance, Volvo was the first manufacturer in the world to offer a seat-mounted side airbag and an inflatable curtain (IC).
• Side Impact Protection System (SIPS): A well-balanced combination of high-strength steel of different grades interacts to minimise penetration into the passenger compartment. According to our own and official statistics the patented SIPS together with the side-impact airbag reduces severe chest injuries by more than 50%.
• Whiplash Protection System (WHIPS): Volvo’s system for avoiding neck injuries – WHIPS – is one of the most effective on the market. In the event of a rear-end collision the front seat backrest accompanies the passenger’s initial body movement and dampens the incoming force rather like one’s hand does when catching a ball.
• Laminated windows: The optional panoramic roof in the XC60 is laminated to reduce the risk of glass shattering. All the other windows can be equipped with laminated glass for comfort and security reasons.
• Integrated two-stage child booster cushion: In the early 1970s, Volvo Cars was the first car manufacturer to develop its own child seat. In 2007 the company presented yet another new development: the integrated two-stage child booster cushion. The booster cushion helps position the lap belt correctly over the pelvis and elevates the child, making it easier to see out the window. The cushion is supplemented by a belt that is suited to the child’s weight as well as an inflatable curtain (IC) that is extra-long to help protect the child’s head.
• Child seat anchorage system – ISOFIX: Volvo Cars has been one of the prime drivers behind the joint international project to develop the ISOFIX standard. ISOFIX is an attachment system that makes it easier to fit a child seat correctly in all cars equipped with the system.
Phase 5: Post-Crash
Volvo has many years experience in examining and following up actual accidents involving Volvo cars. In order to extend the analysis to the chain of events occurring moments before the collision, Volvo Cars supplements its own statistics with external detailed studies and reconstructions of chains of events. The collective knowledge thus generated is later used in the development of new Volvo safety technology.
• Volvo On Call: In the event of an accident where the seat belt pre-tensioner and airbags have been activated, this in-car function automatically alerts an operator manning a round-the-clock customer service facility. The operator can immediately see the exact location of the car and can quickly direct assistance to the site and help the driver through the situation. The driver can also manually activate the service in an emergency by pressing an SOS button. Volvo On Call is available on several European markets and can be specified as an option on all Volvo models equipped with an integrated phone.
Volvo Cars’ Traffic Accident Research Team
Volvo Cars’ Traffic Accident Research Team traces its roots to the 1960s. A few years after Volvo engineer Nils Bohlin invented the three-point seat belt and Volvo Cars had introduced it as standard in front seats, a comprehensive survey was carried out of the seat belt’s injury-reducing effect.
The survey, which was carried out in 1966, encompassed all cases of injury in Sweden that involved a Volvo and it covered a period of one year. The results indicated that the seat belt reduced injury frequency by 50 percent. Volvo realised then that detailed knowledge about what actually happens with the vehicle and its occupants in a collision is valuable in the product development process. A decision was therefore taken in 1970 to establish the company’s own Traffic Accident Research Team, which has worked continuously ever since. Over the past 35 years, Volvo Cars’ own traffic accident research unit has collected data from more than 36,000 accidents. This information has resulted in an invaluable contribution both to Volvo’s own safety work and to traffic accident research in general.
The Volvo Cars Safety Centre
In order to offer cars with a world-class safety level, Volvo Cars regards it as essential to ensure that the safety systems used cover every size of occupant, across a wide range of speeds and a broad spectrum of collision scenarios. For this reason 100–120 crash tests are performed with each new car model at the Volvo Cars Safety Centre and, before the car even exists as a prototype, it has been crashed several thousands of times in virtual simulators. This unique facility in Göteborg opened in 2000 and is among the most advanced centres of its kind. The tests form a highly effective complement to the experiences gained from accident research in the field.
1944 Safety cage
1944 Laminated windscreen
1959 Three-point seat belts in the front
1960 Padded instrument panel
1964 Prototype of the first rear-facing child seat is tested in a Volvo
1966 Twin-circuit triangular (three-wheel) backup braking system
1966 Crumple zones
1967 Seat belts in the rear
1968 Head restraints front
1969 Three-point inertia-reel seat belts in the front
1970 Volvo Cars’ Traffic Accident Research Team established
1972 Three-point seat belts in the rear
1972 Rear-facing child seat and child-proof door locks
1972 Volvo Experimental Safety Car (VESC)
1973 Energy-absorbing steering column
1974 Energy-absorbing bumpers
1974 Fuel tank relocated for enhanced safety
1978 Child booster cushion for children
1982 Under-run protection
1982 Door mirrors of wide-angle type
1984 ABS, anti-locking brakes
1986 Brake lights at eye level
1986 Three-point seat belt in the middle of the rear seat
1987 Seat belt pre-tensioner
1987 Driver’s airbag
1990 Integrated booster cushion for children
1991 SIPS, side impact collision protection
1991 Automatic height adjustment of front seat belts
1993 Three-point inertia-reel seat belt in all the seats
1994 SIPS, side-impact airbags
1997 ROPS, Roll-Over Protection System for convertible models (C70)
1998 WHIPS, protection against whiplash injuries
1998 IC, inflatable curtain,
1998 DSTC, Dynamic Stability and Traction Control
2000 Volvo Cars Safety Centre inaugurated in Göteborg on 29 March
2000 ISOFIX attachments for child seats
2000 Two-stage airbag
2000 Volvo On Call safety system
2000 Volvo Cars Safety Centre’s new crash laboratory inaugurated
2001 Volvo Safety Concept Car (SCC)
2002 RSC, Roll Stability Control
2002 ROPS, Roll-Over Protection System for SUVs (XC90)
2002 Lower cross-member at the front – protection system for oncoming cars
2002 Development of virtual “pregnant” crash-test dummy
2003 IDIS, intelligent system for driver information
2003 Patented new structure at the front reduces collision forces
2003 Bangkok’s Traffic Accident Research Centre (TARC) is inaugurated
2004 BLIS, system for information about the offset rear blind spot
2004 DMIC, door-mounted side airbag for convertibles
2005 Volvo’s co-driver-system
2005 Multi Lock, combined alcolock and lock for the seat belt and key for speed restriction (research project)
2006 ACC, Adaptive Cruise Control
2006 Personal Car Communicator (PCC)
2006 Collision warning with brake support
2006 Active Bi-Xenon headlamps
2007 Integrated two-stage child booster cushion
2007 CWAB, Collision Warning with Auto Brake
2007 Driver Alert
2007 Lane Departure Warning
2008 Pre-Prepared Restraints,
2008 City Safety, low-speed collision avoidance