Over the years, Volvo has established a well-earned reputation for building what are among the safest cars on the road. All current Volvos that have been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration receive a superior rating of five stars for occupant protection. Those evaluated by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety get top “good” safety ratings, including for its stricter small-overlap front-crash tests. Many receive the IIHS’ Top Safety Pick designation.
Volvo’s current sedan lineup consists of the midsize S60 and flagship S90. Its station wagon offerings include the V60 and V60 Cross Country, and the V90 and V90 Cross Country models. Sport-utility vehicles come in three sizes, the compact XC40, midsize XC60 and full-size XC90. Volvo is currently owned by Chinese automaker Geely, which purchased it from the Ford Motor Company in 2010. The company will be launching a new sub-brand of plug-in hybrid and full electric luxury performance cars called Polestar for the 2020 model year.
As it turns out, safety is an important part of Volvo’s history.
With its name taken from the Latin translation for “I roll,” Volvo began building cars in Gothenberg, Sweden, on April 14, 1927. Founded by Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larsson, the company always has specialized in building vehicles with passenger safety in mind. Its founders are quoted as saying, “Cars are driven by people. The guiding principle behind everything we make at Volvo, therefore, is and must remain, safety.”
Volvo cars are not only built to be safe. The company has both pioneered and has been among the first automakers to implement a long list of passenger protection and active driver-assist systems over the years. You’ll find them in both new and used Volvos.
Occupant Safety Innovations
A Volvo engineer named Nils Bohlin is widely credited for developing the first three-point seat belt for a production automobile with the 1959 Volvo PV544. Though two Americans filed a patent in 1951 by for a “combination shoulder and lap safety belt,” it was designed for aircraft. Bohlin subsequently improved the design for use in mass-produced passenger cars. Volvo waived its patent rights on the seat belt design so other automakers could use it without having to pay a royalty and help promote safer cars industrywide. Volvo contends that since their inception, three-point belts have prevented more than 1 million highway deaths across the globe. While they were initially exclusive to front seats, three-point belts also now are fitted into rear seating positions.
Volvo developed the rear-facing child seat in 1972. The company says its design was inspired by early images of astronauts lying on their backs during takeoff to help mitigate launch forces. A rear-facing child seat supports a child’s head, neck and spine, and helps reduce stress to the neck and spinal cord in a crash. They’re generally recommended from birth to age 2. In addition, Volvo created the child booster seat in 1976 for older children. It began integrating boosters into a vehicle’s rear seats in 1990.
The company introduced the first Whiplash Protection System in 1998. Whiplash injuries are among the most common of all traffic injuries. The system is designed so that the entire backrest helps to provide uniform support and reduce head motion relative to the rest of the body. This helps protect front-seat riders’ necks in the event of a rear impact and is claimed to reduce the possibility of long-term medical problems by half.
Volvo pioneered the use of side-impact protection as early as 1991 with its Side Impact Protection System. This combines a strong structure and energy-absorbing materials on the inside of a vehicle with a sturdy cross member in the floor and reinforced seats. The automaker went a step further in this regard with the first side-impact airbags in 1994. They’re designed to deploy from within the seats on the driver and front passenger’s side if another vehicle crashes into the car from the side. It followed that advancement with yet another in 1988, the inflatable side curtain. This is a tubular airbag that’s concealed in the headliner and stretches across the length of the vehicle to protect outboard riders’ heads. It inflates in just 25 thousandths of a second upon a side impact to absorb 75 percent of the energy generated when the head is thrown sideways.
Volvo introduced Run-off Road Protection technology in 2014 on the XC90 sport utility vehicle. This system protects occupants should the vehicle inadvertently leave the pavement. The company says running off the road is attributable to half of all traffic fatalities in the U.S. It’s usually due to driver fatigue or inattentiveness, or because of slippery wet or snowy roads. The system automatically tightens the front seat belts and keeps them tightened as long as the vehicle remains in motion. The vehicle’s seats are specially engineered to absorb energy in this event to help prevent spinal injuries.
Driver Assist Technology
Volvo also has been at the forefront of developing advanced accident-avoidance systems. Volvo developed the Rollover Protection System in 2002. It includes a sophisticated electronic Roll Stability Control system that automatically initiates braking at one or more wheels and reduces engine torque if it determines the vehicle is about to roll over. The system further includes an enhanced roof structure to better protect occupants should it not be able to prevent the vehicle from rolling over.
In 2003, Volvo debuted the Blind Spot Information System. It’s also known elsewhere in the auto industry as blind-spot warning. The system uses cameras and radar to detect the presence of other vehicles situated to the side and rear of the car that the driver might not otherwise see in a side mirror. When the system identifies another vehicle, it illuminates a warning light near the mirror to let the driver know it’s there. The system since has been enhanced with a Cross Traffic Alert function. This feature detects and alerts the driver to approaching vehicles when backing out of a garage or parking space.
Volvo’s City Safety low-speed automatic emergency braking system debuted in 2008 to help prevent rear-end collisions in around-town traffic. Volvo says that 75 percent of all reported collisions take place at speeds of up to 18 mph, and in half of all rear-enders, the driver behind fails to apply the brakes at all. Here, the system warns the driver of an impending rear-end collision with a vehicle in its path. It will further go ahead and engage the brakes on its own if the driver is not reacting quickly enough.
The automaker followed that up in 2010 with the Pedestrian Detection with Full Auto-Brake system. This technology can apply the brakes at full force automatically if someone on foot should step out in front of the vehicle. Volvo’s latest update to the City Safety system also can react to the presence of bicyclists darting out in front of the vehicle and even prevent a car from hitting large animals in its path, such as deer and elk.
The automaker’s latest innovation is called Connected Safety. This advanced system warns the driver when another vehicle ahead of it on the same road has engaged its hazard warning flashers or slippery road conditions are detected. What’s more, it can alert other vehicles within the proximity of either situation also equipped with Connected Safety.
Volvo has identified three main obstacles in future models to help approach zero fatalities in its vehicles. The first issue is speeding, which the automaker says is one of the most common causes of traffic deaths. The second is driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, which likewise remains one of the prime reasons for traffic injuries and fatalities. The third is distracted driving, which can be as dangerous as taking the wheel while intoxicated.
To that end, the automaker says it will begin limiting the top speeds in all of its vehicles to 112 mph for the 2021 model year. The company also is looking into future safety systems that would leverage what’s called geofencing to automatically limit a vehicle’s speed while driving near schools and hospitals. Volvo says it’s also working on technology that would monitor a driver to determine whether he or she is intoxicated or overly distracted. It would do so by examining a motorist’s facial expression and pupil response. If the system believes a motorist is impaired, it would first issue a warning. Then, if the driver isn’t responding, it would intervene by slowing the car and automatically parking it safely.