As part of its plan to prevent all deaths in future products, Volvo said Monday that it will limit the top speed to a maximum 180 kmh, or 112 mph starting with all models produced in 2021.
The automaker has laid out a strategy, dubbed Vision 2020, that aims to prevent all deaths and serious injuries in its products. It has been rolling out an assortment of passive and active safety features to help reach that goal, but sees the new self-imposed speed limit as a critical element in reaching its target.
“Because of our research, we know where the problem areas are when it comes to ending serious injuries and fatalities in our cars,” said Håkan Samuelsson, president and chief executive of Volvo Cars. “And while a speed limitation is not a cure-all, it’s worth doing if we can even save one life.”
Volvo also is considering ways to use “geofencing” to control speeds automatically when a vehicle enters a school or hospital zone. That would depend upon mapping technology, whether using next-generation onboard maps or relying on connected vehicle systems.
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“We want to start a conversation about whether car makers have the right or maybe even an obligation to install technology in cars that changes their driver’s behaviour, to tackle things such as speeding, intoxication or distraction,” said Samuelsson. “We don’t have a firm answer to this question, but believe we should take leadership in the discussion and be a pioneer.”
The strategy is in character for Volvo, a brand that has long put an emphasis on safety technology. It was the first brand to offer seatbelts and, during the last few years, has pushed to establish a lead in the development of advanced driver assistance systems, or ADAS, such as forward collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking.
The Swedish automaker isn’t the first to impose a speed limit on its products, however. A number of European automakers have long had a “gentleman’s agreement” in place to limit top speeds to 250 kmh, or about 155 mph. But a few models are exempted and there are a number of aftermarket suppliers who offer modified engine control chips that can circumvent those restrictions. It remains to be seen if they will offer modified chips for future Volvo products, as well.
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The new Volvo strategy “will not apply” to products produced by Polestar, according to spokesperson Morgan Theys. That’s the new Volvo sub-brand that focuses on battery-based performance products, such as the Polestar 1 plug-in hybrid and the newly launched Polestar 2 battery-electric vehicle.
Speed has long been a concern for safety advocates, especially at a time when many American states have been raising limits to new highs. Texas now allows motorists to legally travel at up to 85 mph on one of its limited-access highways. In Europe, Germany’s Autobahns offer performance fans the option to drive at whatever speed they want – at least in limited areas, many stretches of the highway network now opposing strict limits, particularly in key urban areas. German authorities are considering a nationwide reduction to 130 kmh, or 81 mph.
Excess speed has been linked to rising vehicle fatality rates in the U.S., especially when linked with other factors, such as drunk and distracted driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration blames excess speed for 26% of highway deaths, though some observers caution that the numbers can be misleading.
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Last week, the Governors Highway Safety Association reported preliminary data indicating that 6,227 U.S. pedestrians were killed in 2018, a 4% year-over-year increase and the highest toll since 1990.