Volvo has burdened itself with the unrealistic duty of ending fatalities in its cars. While an admirable goal, eliminating roadway mishaps in their entirety is an exceptionally tall order. We’ve often wondered how the company intends to progress toward its zero-death target. The automaker has already said it intends to reduce speeding by limiting the top speed of all models to 112 mph.
On Wednesday, the company said it will introduce an orange “Care Key” that allows owners to apply whatever maximum velocity they desire (below 112 mph) and an in-car camera system designed to keep you from misbehaving behind the wheel. Volvo’s commitment to safety seems to exist without boundaries, but it leaves us wondering how far is too far.
The Care Key is simple, straightforward, and not a terrible idea. Volvo frames it as a way to keep younger drivers from breaking the law or driving beyond their limits. The company is also inviting insurance companies in several markets to offer special, favorable insurance to members of the Volvo community using its new safety features — which is something we’ll come back to in a bit.
Håkan Samuelsson, Volvo Cars’ chief executive, said this month that the company wants to start a conversation about whether car makers have the right or maybe even the obligation to install technology in cars that changes their owners’ behaviour. Now that such technology is available to use, this question becomes even more important.
The speed limit and the Care Key are both part of that initiative and illustrate how car makers can take active responsibility for striving to achieve zero traffic fatalities by supporting better driver behaviour.
“We believe that a car maker has a responsibility to help improve traffic safety,” said Samuelsson. “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.”
However, the amount of peace of mind generated by the in-car camera system likely hinges on how palatable you find breaches in personal privacy. If you’re the sort of person that puts pieces of tape over your computer camera, this isn’t going to fly. But Volvo believes the system will help eliminate distracted, drunk, or drowsy driving. While it seems the automaker is still working out how exactly the system will function, Volvo claims it will appear on models donning its scalable SPA2 vehicle platform in the early 2020s.
Similar sounding to Cadillac’s Super Cruise system, Volvo’s camera will perpetually monitor the operator and assess how they’re doing. If their driving becomes erratic, their eyelids aren’t where they’re supposed to be, or they can’t keep their hands on the wheel, the car will slow itself and issue a warning to the driver. From there, Volvo On Call contacts the driver to make sure everything is okay. If the driver doesn’t respond and/or their “behavior doesn’t improve,” Volvo will stop the vehicle entirely and dispatch emergency services, if needed.
While we love the idea of improved safety and the elimination of distracted or drunk driving, the notion of an always-on nanny cam for adults is slightly unsettling. Almost everything we do online is shared, scrutinized, and sold. What’s stopping Volvo (or other manufacturers) from taking advantage of us or exercising an unsavory amount of control with connected cars?
Insurance groups endorse just about every safety net automakers and tech companies come up with. Meanwhile, manufacturers are seeking partnerships with insurance companies in the hopes they’ll provide discounts on models equipped with their newest safety systems, helping them convince federal regulators to green-light the technologies. Statically, the safest thing you can do right now is purchase the biggest car money can buy and consistently wear a seatbelt. But automated interventions are likely to provide additional safety support, provided you’re comfortable with the cost and understand how to use them.
However, critics complain that a sudden influx of sensors will make automotive repair bills astronomical, limit driving freedoms, cross the line of personal privacy, and further drive up MSRPs. Advocates counter these claims by saying reduced roadway fatalities are worth any sacrifice.
We’re interested in what you think.
[Images: Volvo Cars]