Volvo Takes Nanny-State-Of-Mind to New Heights

Way back in the 1950s when Volvo gave away its patent for the car’s first three-point seat belt to other manufacturers, many motorists scoffed.

These safety doubters would have taken their cue from Sir Stirling Moss who famously demanded the driver belts be removed from his racing Mercedes-Benz car for the 1955 Mille Miglia in the knowledge it was safer to be thrown from the vehicle in a crash than strapped to a petrol-bomb! History now looks on this skeptics as delusional and, perhaps, they will look on my opinion about Volvo’s latest safety lunacy the same way?

That’s because I fail to see the point of its intended policy to restrict all its products to 112mph by 2020 and today backed up with the even more inexplicable offer of a Care Key to allow the owner to restrict the car’s speed even further by 2021. Why do I take this seemingly irresponsible approach to motorists’ safety? Well let’s take a look at the current ADAS safety kit on modern cars.

Airbags front and air curtains on the sides, active head restraints to mitigate neck injuries after rebounding from the airbag, safety cells for the passengers, multiple crumple zones to absorb impact energy and now autonomous emergency braking (AEB) when a collision is about to occur. Most premium vehicles rely on this cocktail of safety equipment and many safety pundits want these as minimum standards for all vehicles.

Yet, the promotion of a nanny-state-of-mind by Volvo is clear with comments by its president and CEO Håkan Samuelsson, who we are told “wants to start a conversation about whether carmakers have the right, or maybe even the obligation, to install technology in cars that changes their owners’ behaviour”.

He went on: “We believe that a carmaker has a responsibility to help improve traffic safety. Our recently announced speed limit fits that thinking and the Care Key is another example. Many want to be able to share their car with friends and family but are unsure about how to make sure they are safe on the road. The Care Key provides one good solution and extra peace of mind.”

Head-on crash

Volvo products, naturally, boast the full suite of features but how far do they actually work? From personal experience, I can say these technologies could make a difference. I was involved in high-speed head-on collision with a drunk driver some years ago testing the superb Lexus RX300 and the coroner investigating the incident pointed out that I owed my life to the superior safety technology on the vehicle. That’s probably true but only up to a point.

Because no carmaker guarantees the lives and well-being of any occupant of their products at any speed. My own collision, with an estimated closing speed of comfortably more than 150mph, could be seen as much to do with luck as technology.

So, when Volvo restricts its vehicles to 112mph, is it saying fewer people will be killed and injured at that speed instead of the previous 155mph limit? I think not. Throw a melon against a brick wall at 112mph and you’ll get much the same mashed mess as one thrown at 155mph.

The strategy looks to me more about grabbing headlines for a generation obsessed by the notion it will live for ever. I apologize for popping that bubble and prefer to live and drive in a world where the individual, ultimately, has control and bears the responsibility.

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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