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The Wheel Thing: Volvo aims to reduce auto fatalities to zero




The 2016 Volvo CX90 features an array of active safety features, including seat belts that tighten when sensors detect a collision is imminent.
The 2016 Volvo CX90 features an array of active safety features, including seat belts that tighten when sensors detect a collision is imminent.
Volvo Car Corporation

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An estimated 32,000 Americans are expected to die in crashes this year. That's down almost 25 percent from just a decade ago. Some believe we can eliminate all vehicle deaths before the next decade begins.

Even though it's built its brand around safety, Volvo has an audacious plan. Back in 2008, it added this line to its vision statement: "By 2020, nobody shall be seriously injured or killed in a new Volvo."

The company's new XC90 crossover makes some serious strides toward fulfilling that promise. Safety enhancements include seats that absorb energy in a crash, augmented by seat belts that tighten instantly when onboard sensors detect a collision.

Because drivers generally slam on the brakes when an accident is imminent, Volvo designed collapsing brake pedal, to minimize damage to the driver's legs upon impact.  

Radar along the rear of the XC90 can sense when a car is about to slam into the back of the Volvo. It flashes blinkers to alert the errant driver. When its sure impact is inevitable, it tightens the seat belts and locks the brakes to protect driver and passengers.

There's also a system which will stop the car if it attempts to turn left into oncoming traffic.

All this is attached to the crossover's hefty body.  About 40 percent of it is made of light but super-strong boron steel. A variety of design tricks are employed to make sure the car takes the impact damage, so the occupants don't.

It's not clear if Volvo will meet its ambitious goal in the five years it has left to reach it. But before you dismiss the idea as quixotic, note that the Swedish government has a similar plan, as does one of the most challenging places for drivers on earth, New York City.