According to Continental AG, 4 to 5pm on a Friday afternoon is the most common time for car accidents to occur, while Saturday noon is the most likely time to have a car crash during the weekend. One-third more accidents occur at this time compared to the same time on a Sunday. Heavy traffic, poor weather conditions in winter and drivers being tired at the end of the week are factors that contribute to the sharp increase in accidents. As ever, safety remains a top priority amongst European car buyers who are bombarded with facts like this and made to feel very vulnerable on European roads. They are made to feel that on Western Europe’s ever more crowded roads, the chances of having an accident are increasing year on year. While they may not be life threatening, they can nevertheless cause serious injury, especially to the neck and back.
In recognition of this and statistics revealing that 75% of all reported collisions occur at speeds of up to 30 km/h (18.7 mph), Volvo has developed a unique “City Safety” system that it maintains could help drivers avoid making the 50% of all rear-end, low-speed accidents that often happen in urban environments or slow moving traffic. It builds upon Volvo’s Collision Warning and Brake Support active safety systems with the all-new Volvo S80, which also help to avoid and reduce damage and injuries from collisions. These systems alert the driver via audible and visual signals if the gap to the car in front is reducing so quickly that an impact is likely. It automatically pre-charges the braking system so that braking is as effective as possible in an emergency situation. However, it does not offer full auto-braking.
Volvo’s City Safety system is active up to 30 km/h and keeps a watchful eye on traffic up to six meters in front of the car with the help of an optical radar system integrated into the upper part of the windscreen. If the car in front suddenly brakes or is stationary, the system automatically pre-charges the brakes to help the driver avoid an accident by slowing down in time, or steering away from a potential collision. However, if a collision is imminent, the system will activate the car’s brakes automatically. “The system offers benefits to all involved,” says Ingrid Skogsmo, director of the Volvo Cars Safety Center. “For the occupants of the car in front, the risk of whiplash injuries is avoided or reduced, plus it can help reduce or even eliminate the cost of repairs to both vehicles.”
The system runs a calculation 50 times per second to determine what braking speed is needed to avoid a collision based on the distance to the object in front and the car’s own speed. If the calculated braking force exceeds a given level without the driver responding, the danger of a collision is considered imminent and City Safety helps avoid or reduce the consequences of a collision by automatically activating the car’s brakes and reducing the throttle. It works equally well day or night, but will have the same limitations as any other radar systems, so can be limited by fog, mist, snow or heavy rain. If the sensor on the windscreen is obscured by dirt or snow the driver is alerted via the car’s information display. Volvo says it will be available within two years.
“It is important to emphasize that the system does not absolve the driver from driving with adequate safety margins in order to avoid collisions,” says Skogsmo. “The automatic braking function is only activated when the system assesses that a collision is imminent. The system then steps in to limit the consequences of the imminent collision or, in some cases, totally avoid it.”
Renault is also very active in the safety field, recently conducting its 10,000th crash test at its Lardy Technical Centre in the Paris region of France. During the last 50 years, its engineers have tested nearly 11,000 vehicles (some tests in-volve two vehicles), made over 100,000 videos, taken almost 500,000 photos and analyzed more than one million measurements. It has also been conducting virtual crash tests for a number of years to complement real-life testing, using digital techniques to broaden its research areas. These tests—around 300 real and 4,500 virtual tests a year, along with the precious information gathered at accident sites—are analyzed and used to design safety systems that correspond with the reality of road accidents.
A leading player in automotive safety, Renault has been manufacturing vehicles with the highest active and passive safety levels for a number of years. Indeed, the French automaker has consistently been the driving force behind a number of breakthroughs in this arena. The Laguna mid-size sedan set the car occupant safety benchmark by becoming the first car to achieve a maximum five-star rating when it was tested by Euro NCAP in March 2001, while the Modus proved that small cars could be just as safe as much larger ones, by becoming the first car of its size to receive the same accolade in November 2004. The most recent entrant to its five-star car elite was the Clio in June 2005, giving Renault a range of eight cars with the coveted five-star crash test rating from the independent testing body, Euro NCAP—by far the highest of any car manufacturer in the world.
In addition to protecting vehicle occupants through its active and passive safety systems, Renault is continuing to work towards reducing vehicle accidents and injuries through its global safety education program. It launched its international “Safety for All” initiative in 2000 to raise awareness of road safety among young people. Since then, it has touched more than 8 million children in 21 countries. In the UK alone, where the campaign runs under the banner “Safety Matters,” over 15,000 schools have benefited from the program, which provides teaching materials to educate primary school children.