By Jim Kerr

Two things happened last week that made me sit back and think about vehicle safety. First, I received a CD entitled “What Makes a Volvo a Volvo.” That same day, I was test driving the Volvo S80 sedan and had a vehicle suddenly slam on the brakes in front of me. The S80 safety systems helped me to avoid a collision.

Volvo is well known for their emphasis on safety research, design and implementation, but has it also helped those who don’t drive a Volvo? I would say definitely yes.

It started back in 1927, when Volvo introduced safety glass windshields on their vehicles. Now there were no large jagged pieces of glass when a windshield was broken. The next innovation in windshields occurred when Volvo introduced laminated safety glass in 1944. The plastic layer bonded between two layers of glass kept the glass in place if it was broken, and the plastic layer helped prevent objects from being projected through the glass. Laminated safety glass is standard on all windshields now, but Volvo introduced it 15 years before it became mandatory.

In 1959, Volvo added three point seatbelts to their vehicles. While other seatbelt designs have been considered, the three-point design is now standard in production vehicles from all manufacturers. A milestone occurred in 1970, when Volvo introduced the first factory auto accident investigation team. This team would rush to the scene of serious accidents involving Volvo vehicles to investigate the vehicles. Analysis of the collision was used to design safer vehicle structures and new safety features. This philosophy of continual safety improvements continues today.

Nils Bohlin invented the first three-point safety belt in 1959
Nils Bohlin invented the first three-point safety belt in 1959. Click image to enlarge

Jump forward to 1984 and you will find ABS braking introduced as standard equipment on Volvo automobiles. The list of standard safety features on today’s Volvo is much longer and included items such as side curtain air bags and whiplash protection systems in seats.

Integrated child booster seats are yet another safety feature I appreciated as my sons were growing. The booster seats were introduced in 1991, and although they are not found on other vehicle makes, I feel they should be.

It was twelve years ago that Volvo introduced side impact air bags. Now they can be found on many vehicles from all manufacturers. In 2002, Volvo’s SUV added a Roll over Protection system and Roll Stability Control. These systems help prevent roll-over in vehicles with a higher centre of gravity, such as SUV’s or pickup trucks, and then protect occupants if a roll-over does occur. These features are now found on many SUV’s and the United States is looking at making them mandatory.

As you can see, safety has always been an integral part of Volvo design. Ford Motor Company, which now owns Volvo, has benefited greatly from this wealth of safety research and innovation. Volvo inspired safety features started appearing on Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles soon after it was purchased. Rather that re-invent the wheel, Ford recognized the value of Volvo safety design and has implemented many of the features into new vehicles.

Volvo's first side airbags - 1994
Volvo’s first side airbags – 1994. Click image to enlarge

New designs and features don’t remain exclusive for long in the automotive world. If one manufacturer is offering a feature, then a competitor will soon add their own version of that feature in a competing automobile. This marketplace competition has raised the level of safety provided by all automobiles on our roads.

The Volvo S80 comes equipped with the latest in safety equipment. When a vehicle suddenly braked hard in front of me, the S80’s Collision Warning System (CWS) took effect immediately. Using the sensor for the adaptive cruise control, the CWS monitors the closing rate between vehicles in front. If this distance decreases rapidly and the driver doesn’t react, the CWS will flash a row of bright LED’s on the dash that light up the windshield, getting the driver’s instant attention. At the same time, the brake system applies pressure to move the brake pads against the rotors so there is no delay in brake application. Finally, the brake system can apply full brake pressure to slow the vehicle if the driver doesn’t react. All of this occurs in an eye-blink.

Modern electronically controlled safety systems can react faster than drivers and bring the level of driving safety up for all drivers, both inexperienced and experienced. Safety doesn’t just happen – it’s planned. For Volvo, safety is an important part of their vehicle plans, and that spreads to everything we drive.

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