Volvo is also launching a stronger initiative to protect female car occupants.
Volvo wants to help reduce injuries and deaths from car accidents, regardless of manufacturer, so it is embarking on a new initiative to share information with other carmakers. Volvo announced Wednesday at a press conference in Sweden that it will share its data on crash-test safety with other automakers for free. It was announced along with Volvo's plans for in-car cameras designed to counter intoxicated and distracted driving.
The data-sharing move comes in the 60th anniversary year of the automaker's decision to equip all cars with three-point seatbelts as standard. Back then, Volvo decided not to charge other companies to use the technology. Three-point belts thus quickly spread worldwide, which Volvo Cars CEO Håkan Samuelsson told journalists "has probably saved over one million lives, not in Volvos only but in all brands."
Volvo has a huge trove of crash-test data that it can share, and it's thanks in part to those three-point belts. In 1966, the company began studiously examining crashes involving Volvo cars to see whether seatbelts made a difference (spoiler alert: they reduced injuries by 50 percent). Then in 1970, Volvo formed the Accident Research Team, which is on-call 24-7 to visit any crash site involving a Volvo within a one-hour drive of the company's headquarters in Gothenburg, Sweden. For Volvo crashes further afield in Sweden, the company draws on insurance records, medical data and surveys sent to the involved drivers to build up even more information.
"And that provides in-depth information, which is a world of information … of the injury mechanisms and the occupants' different needs for protection," Lotta Jakobsson, senior technical specialist at Volvo Cars Safety Center, told journalists.
Jakobsson emphasizes that Volvo won't be sharing raw data points, but rather interpretations and analyses other companies can use to make their cars safer. As well as the altruistic goal of helping improve car safety, the sharing initiative is intended to help Volvo learn from what other companies are doing: "I also want to learn something," Jakobsson said.
The announcement goes hand-in-hand with Volvo's launch of Project EVA, which stands for Equal Vehicles for All. Jakobsson says that carmakers don't test with a very diverse set of dummy sizes and designs, and as a result, women, as well as people outside of average heights and weight ranges, tend to fare much worse in car crashes. Project EVA's goal is to focus specifically on addressing that deficit by recognizing that computer models and dummies need to represent more body types.
"People are different, nobody looks exactly like that," Jakobsson said, pointing at a nearby crash-test dummy.
For one specific example of how the company has already addressed this, she cites Volvo's WHIPS anti-whiplash seat design introduced in 1998. Volvo data showed women, and especially tall women, were significantly more likely to incur whiplash neck injuries in crashes than men. (Why? "Still there's no good answer for this," Jakobsson said, though she says it's believed women's necks are more flexible.)
As a result of that data, Volvo's WHIPS seats specifically focused on cutting down those whiplash injuries -- and data showed a 30-percent reduction in whiplash claims as a result. And that's exactly the type of safety improvement Volvo hopes it and other carmakers will be able to make as a result of Project EVA.