2010 Volvo XC60
2010 Volvo XC60. Click image to enlarge
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By Jim Kerr

Over the past few weeks, I have been looking at some of the best new automotive technologies introduced in 2009, all entrants in the Best New Technology awards sponsored by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada and judged by a Technical Jury of qualified journalists. This year there were six entries and the winner will be announced at the Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto in February, 2010.

So far, I have looked at the Mercedes-Benz Attention Assist system, Audi’s Drive Select, Ford’s MyKey and the Toyota Touch Tracer feature. This week, I’m reviewing Volvo’s ‘City Safety.’

Volvo and safety have been synonymous as long as I can remember. Actually, Volvo started studying automotive safety way back in 1927, long before it became a popular topic. They were also the first to introduce many safety features, such as seat belt warning systems, into their automobiles, and were the first automaker to introduce seatbelts as standard equipment. Several years ago, Volvo started looking at real-time accidents, sending investigative teams out to study the cause and effect in an effort to reduce both property and personal damage. This work is ongoing, but one of the things they did find was that inattention was a major factor in all collisions. Whether it was looking for change for a toll booth, selecting another CD to put into the audio system, or dealing with some noisy children in the back seat, the effects are the same – the driver’s eyes are not on the road.

Ideally, drivers should have 100 per cent of our attention focused intently on controlling the vehicle, but ideals are often not realistic. Because of this, Volvo has introduced the City Safety feature as standard equipment on their XC60 SUV and on other Volvo products in the near future.

City Safety is designed to automatically brake a vehicle to a full stop if the system detects large reflective objects in proximity to the front of the vehicle. That means it can detect another vehicle, a barricade or even your garage wall! There are limitations however, for it won’t detect a bicycle or a pedestrian, so the driver still has to pay attention.

Infrared laser beams are sent out from a transmitter housing located behind the inside rear view mirror. These beams bounce off objects and back to the sensor located in the same housing. The City Safety system performs 50 calculations per second and when the system detects an object, it will activate the brakes, applying 50 per cent of the brakes all at once. The brake lights are also turned on so following traffic will know you are braking.

If the vehicle is travelling at about 15 km/h or less depending on road conditions, there is time for the vehicle to automatically brake to a complete stop. If you are travelling faster, up to 30 km/h, the vehicles will still collide, but the force of the collision and resulting damage or injury will be greatly reduced.

There are a couple of times when City Safety won’t be as effective. For example, in rain or heavy snow, the laser beams don’t travel as well so detection range is limited, and the system doesn’t work if you are already braking. The engineers programmed it this way, assuming that if you are already braking, you must be attentive to the vehicle surroundings and are already taking corrective action.

Note that the City Safety system only brakes at 50 per cent effort. The driver can still override the system by simply stepping on the brakes firmly to give more braking effort. Stability control and ABS braking are still effective even during City Safety braking events, so the vehicle won’t suddenly slide out of control on an uneven traction surface.

Most of the time, drivers are able to brake effectively and avoid collisions. However, most of us have experienced the situation where when changing lanes and shoulder checking, the vehicle in front suddenly slows or stops. City Safety would engage and bring your attention quickly back to the front.

Another time City Safety might come in useful is when you are slowly driving in stop and go traffic. Bored, you look in the console for some new music CD and traffic suddenly stops. Without City Safety, you might be in a fender-bender. With it, everybody continues on their merry way.

City Safety – one of Volvo’s ways of keeping us and our families safer.

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