Technology

The psychology of safety

With the V60, Volvo Cars is taking another big leap into the future of cars. We catch up with Malin Ekholm, from the Volvo Cars Safety Centre, to discover why Volvo takes a holistic approach to safety.

WORDS: IAN DICKSON

“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 Malin is vice president of the Volvo Cars Safety Centre, this seems like an odd thing for her to say. But as someone who works in a department with a far-reaching influence throughout the company, she believes that safety is much more than just technology. Instead, she says, it’s about a feeling – a state of mind.

“Take our seats as an example. Our ergonomics team starts by asking how can we make the most comfortable seat possible,” explains Malin. “Because when you’re sitting comfortably you choose to wear your seat belt. This is where safety starts – understanding what your needs are and designing safety technology around that.”

She believes that 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, Malin talks about preparing for a journey before you even get in the car. With the Volvo On Call app, 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 Volvo Cars’ customers 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. “The car should support the driver and help them focus on driving,” explains Malin. 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.

Malin Ekholm standing in a factory
Crash test dummies in Volvo driving seats

“By doing so much research we can design safety and usability around people.”

MALIN EKHOLM

Vice President, Volvo Cars Safety Centre

So, what’s the secret to Volvo Cars’ work? Research, lots of it – and a deep understanding of the journeys people take in their Volvos. It all starts with real world data collection, explains Malin. 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 their development of future models. “By doing so much research we can design safety and usability around people,” declares Malin.

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,” Malin adds. 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.

Safety in the new V60

Malin Ekholm highlights three key safety innovations in the V60.

City Safety
City Safety identifies other vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists and large animals ahead of you – even at night. It warns you of any hazards and, if you don’t react, will brake automatically to help avoid or mitigate a collision. It can also help you steer around obstacles in the road and avoid oncoming vehicles. And there’s a new City Safety feature in the V60 called oncoming mitigation by braking, a world-first innovation that helps prevent unavoidable collisions by automatically braking when another vehicle is driving on the wrong side of the road and heading towards your car.

Run-off road Mitigation
Run-off road Mitigation helps to keep you safe by keeping you on the road. If this innovation detects you are about to leave the road unintentionally, it uses steering input and, if necessary, brake support to guide you back on track.

Cross Traffic Alert with auto brake
When you leave a parking space, Cross Traffic Alert helps you to avoid a collision when you reverse out. It warns you of vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists approaching from either side and will even brake for you if it detects an imminent collision.