The psychology of safety
“I would love it if you feel so confident in a Volvo that you don’t have to think about safety at all,” says Malin Ekholm.
Considering that Ekholm is vice president of the Volvo Cars Safety Centre, this seems like an odd thing for her to say. Yet as someone who works in a department with a far-reaching influence throughout the company, she believes safety is much more than just technology. Instead, she says, it’s about a feeling – a state of mind.
“Take Volvo seats as an example,” says Ekholm. “Our ergonomics team starts by asking, ‘How can we make the most comfortable seat possible?’. Because when you’re sitting comfortably you choose to wear your seatbelt. This is where safety starts – understanding what your needs are and designing safety technology around that.”
Ekholm believes making people feel comfortable, and in control, in their car is safety.
“Safety gives you confidence, and when you are confident you are able to interact with the car better. And then, when we add convenience, you have a car that works for you.”
As an example, Ekholm talks about preparing for a journey before you even get in the car.
With the Volvo On Call app – coming to Australia in the near future – you can send your calendar to your Volvo’s navigation. It means your car will know where to go, and how long it will take to get there, even before you are sitting at the steering wheel.
And, should you be unlucky enough to be in a collision, Volvo On Call even supports you by alerting the emergency services.
“It’s all about taking the stress and strain out of the everyday car experience by providing that sense of control, confidence and support that customers of Volvo Cars are looking for,” she says.
The influence of safety is felt in every aspect of the car – from how it is designed, how predictable it feels when you drive, and even to the way you access and play your music.
It also includes how key information is presented to the driver. Volvo’s 12.3-inch high-resolution digital driver display, for example, features self-adjusting brightness to make it easier on the driver’s eyes.
Then there’s the 9.0-inch Sensus display with its distinctive portrait format that makes it easier for following route guidance as it shows more of the road on which you are travelling.
And to create a more intuitive experience when it comes to infotainment and climate controls in the cabin, the Sensus approach to technology reduces dash clutter by replacing almost all physical buttons with virtual buttons.
This allows the buttons to be larger and easier to locate quickly.
Sensus’s ergonomic design epitomises Volvo Cars’ detailed approach to increasing safety. By making functions easier to locate, and limiting the distractions of technology, it reduces the time drivers need to both avert their eyes from the road or take a hand off the steering wheel.
This is taken a step further in Volvo models featuring a head-up display. The HUD can project onto the windscreen relevant details - such as speed or navigation - available on the Sensus or driver displays, ensuring the most essential information is as close to the driver’s field of vision as possible.
“The car should support the driver and help them focus on driving,” says Ekholm.
That’s why the safety team works closely with other teams at Volvo Cars. Take vehicle dynamics – when you feel in control, you’re more relaxed. And when you’re more relaxed, your mind is sharper.
The secret to the work at Volvo Cars is research – lots of it. And a deep understanding of the journeys people take in their Volvos.
It all starts with real-world data collection.
Since 1970, an accident research team has been based in the Volvo Cars Safety Centre at its Gothenburg HQ. They’re on standby 24/7 to travel to any accident involving a Volvo car within a one-hour drive.
They undertake deep investigations at the scene, recording the chain of events, road conditions, traffic situation, time of day and any possible injuries that may have occurred. It means that Volvo Cars can paint a highly detailed picture of real-life accidents and use these learnings to inform its development of future models.
“By doing so much research we can design safety and usability around people,” says Ekholm.
Of course, Volvo Cars also takes a global view, studying statistics from around the world and collaborating with authorities.
“We need to understand the global picture. And then when we find a global situation we need to address, we can go into our detailed research,” says Ekholm.
It’s this approach – studying the biomechanics and human behavioural aspects, asking what’s putting people in danger, what types of accidents they are having – that’s the basis for Volvo Cars’ ceaseless innovation within safety.