Volvo to use cameras and sensors to combat drunken, distracted driving

Roman Schwartz
March 23, 2019

Swedish automaker Volvo hopes to reinforce its reputation for safety-first driving by installing cameras and sensors in its cars from the early 2020s, monitoring drivers for signs of being drunk or distracted and intervening to prevent accidents.

Volvo has always had a reputation for pioneering vehicle safety technology. After repeated warnings, the vehicle would limit its speed, Volvo On Call assistance could be called, and as a last resort, the auto would be slowed down and potentially stopped altogether.

With the Care Key, owners will be able to set limitations on the car's top speed should they have to hand over the keys to family members or friends.

"We have data on tens of thousands of real-life accidents, to help ensure our cars are as safe as they can be for what happens in real traffic", says Lotta Jakobsson, professor and senior technical specialist at Volvo Cars Safety Centre. Many want to be able to share their auto with friends and family, but are unsure about how to make sure they are safe on the road. A vehicle could detect a lack of steering input, extreme lane weaving, and slow reaction times, and take a look at the driver's eye movement. Many of those behaviors are associated with drunk driving.

The company, now owned by Chinese manufacturer Geely, announced a while back that it was limiting the top speed of all its cars to 180km/h (but not the cars from it's performance brand Polestar, because presumably speed doesn't kill in performance brands?) and says that intoxication and distraction are two other primary areas of concern for traffic safety.

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"In this case, cameras will monitor for behaviour that may lead to serious injury or death", he added.

In addition to limiting the top speed for all drivers, Volvo Cars today also revealed the Care Key, which allows Volvo drivers to impose limitations on the car's top speed on all cars from model year 2021, before lending their auto to others.

For example, figures by NHTSA show that in the United States, nearly 30 per cent of all traffic fatalities in vehicles in 2017 involved intoxicated drivers.

But CEO Hakan Samuelsson told Reuters it would take another 5 to 10 years before there was a mass takeup of such vehicles, creating a viable market to sell cars with additional safety features such as camera monitoring in the meantime. Just as it offered the technology for the three-point safety belt it developed available to all in the industry, now it plans to offer up its safety data. Volvo USA spokesman Dean Shaw said the automaker could introduce the safety keys sooner.

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