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Safety Science

July 9, 2009

How is a brand that’s synonymous with safety going to make any headway with perhaps the least safetyconscious driving public in the world?

Sanjiv Bhattacharya
Safety is more than just a priority for Volvo, it’s central to the brand’s identity— safety is to Volvo what speed is to Ferrari. As Paul D’Voiz, Managing Director, Volvo India, says: “Volvo has always focussed on safety. The Swedish society is very caring and protective and that has been passed on to our cars.” Even the logo is modelled on the ancient chemistry symbol for iron, signifying strength.

So, there’s something curious about Volvo’s arrival in India, perhaps the least safety-conscious driving environment in the world. If Indians gave two hoots about safety, you wouldn’t see families of seven stacked up on scooters like circus acts, weaving impatiently in and out of traffic as though in a rush to arrive at their next life—but you do, every day. But D’Voiz isn’t put off. “The Indian car market is slowly waking up to safety measures,” he says.  “And Volvo can definitely lead the way.”
 On this last point, there’s no dispute—Volvo’s safety innovations are truly remarkable. The latest models—the S80 and XC90—come with features like the Side Impact Protection System or the Unique Frontal Structure, which reduces damage for other road users. There’s the award-winning Whiplash System which mitigates neck injuries upon impact. And my favourite—the heartbeat sensor, which tells you if there is an intruder in your locked car.

It’s all the work of engineers at the fabled Volvo Car Safety Centre in Sweden, where the team pores through data of real accidents and injuries, and sets about creating systems to minimise them. 
“We analyse a database of nearly 40,000 collisions involving Volvo cars in Sweden and others from around the world,” says Thomas Broberg, a senior advisor to the Safety Centre. “Based on that, we study the injuries meticulously and ponder what could have prevented them. Our statistics show that most accidents occur due to the driver’s divided attention. That’s how the driver alert system came into being.”

Volvo’s engineers no doubt have a noble goal in creating a crash-free future, but ultimately, it’s drivers who need to share in that goal. Perhaps, D’Voiz is right, and India really does want safer roads. Until then, however, he won’t be driving himself around.

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