Volvo commemorates 40 years of real-world accident investigation


For 40 years, Volvo Car Corporation's Accident Research Team has studied, documented and analysed over 40,000 traffic accidents involving Volvo cars in the real traffic environment. The knowledge gained has helped develop many of the new and innovative safety systems Volvo has launched over the years.

Every time a serious accident involving a Volvo occurs within a 60 mile radius of Gothenburg, the Traffic Accident Research Team is alerted via the official emergency switchboard - day or night.

At least one person from Volvo Cars goes to the scene. If possible, the police postpone moving the vehicles until Volvo Cars' technicians have arrived. This allows them to conduct a general study, which is documented with measurements and photographs. The police, witnesses and, if possible, those directly involved are all interviewed. After this, the car is transported to a workshop or to Volvo Cars Safety Centre for further detailed analysis whilst other valuable information is gathered including injuries sustained. When all the information is available, the material is analysed by staff from the Volvo Cars Safety Centre, the design departments and medical expertise.

In total, information from about 40,000 accidents involving Volvos has been gathered since the unit started operating in 1970, and 2,100 in-depth analyses including comprehensive documentation have been conducted. This forms a valuable database that provides input in the development of new products.

How it all began

The Accident Research Team was born after a successful project which measured the effects of the safety belt in real-world traffic accidents. This year-long project took place in 1966 - a few years after the three-point safety belt was introduced as standard in all Volvo models. The results showed a huge 50 per cent injury-reduction as a result of the safety belt.

Volvo's engineers realised the importance of understanding exactly what happens to the car's occupants and the car itself in the course of an accident in order to develop better and safer products in the future. As a result, Volvo Cars' own Accident Research Team was inaugurated in 1970.

Interpreting the sequence of events
The method that is used today has been refined over the years, but all the information is still obtained from actual road accidents.

"We have to assume that our customers don't always do what we expect them to do. They respond differently to various situations. That is why we need to understand the driver's behaviour and how it influences the sequence of events in a real-life accident," explains research unit member John Fredrik Grönvall.

Work in the Accident Research Team follows two main tracks. Firstly, in-depth studies of individual accidents that provide insight into how a car's protective systems behave and how the people involved are injured. Secondly, broad-based statistics that make it possible to chart the likelihood of a certain type of accident occurring.

Ten years with the crash-test laboratory
The Accident Research Team shares an anniversary with the Volvo Cars Safety Centre, which is celebrating ten years of operation this year. On March 29, 2000, Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf opened the centre, which is still one of the most advanced facilities of its kind in the world.

Since its establishment, every new Volvo model has undergone between 100 and 150 different crash tests in the laboratory to test a variety of accident scenarios. Even before the car exists as a physical object it will already have been tested thousands of times as a prototype using virtual simulators.

A total of about 3,000 physical crash tests have been carried out in the laboratory since its inauguration in 2000. All this work aims at ensuring that the vehicle's various safety systems interact as intended and provide effective protection for all the car's occupants, irrespective of their size, at various speeds and in various accident scenarios. The tests supplement the accident research carried out in the field by the Accident Research Team.

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