There is very little more terrifying than those milliseconds before the crunch, when your brain fully understands you are about to crash your car. . . and there is no longer anything you can do about it.
Car crashes are horrible, violent things and even as a writer who has attended many crash tests over the years, even the gut-tightening sound of those sends icy shivers down my spine.
We all know the end result of a car crash, but very often not exactly what led up to that moment.
For the past 50 years a team of in-house detectives at Volvo Cars has been working to analyse the root causes of every crash in Gothenburg, Sweden involving a Volvo car.
The crash scene investigators of the Volvo Car Accident Research Team, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, are ready around the clock to make sure that Volvo Cars learns from real-life accidents and constantly improves its cars.
“The Accident Research Team’s hard work and research allows Volvo Cars to make sure that a tragic traffic accident can lead to something good: ever safer cars,” says Malin Ekholm, head of the Volvo Cars Safety Centre. “By closely analysing what has happened during each phase of an accident, the team provides crucial information on what can be improved on our cars.”
The team has been in operation since 1970. Whenever an accident involving a Volvo occurs, be it night or day, they quickly get to the scene when notified. As they arrive, they start an investigation and document the sequence of events as detailed as possible.
That means asking questions. How forceful was the impact? How quickly did the active safety systems intervene? How are the passengers? Other questions include: What was the weather like? What was the time? In what condition were the road markings?
The work continues back at the office: the team requests publicly accessible police reports, contacts the driver and examines the car when possible. The team also tries to understand how the driver experienced the accident, a process that involves the Volvo Cars Safety Centre’s behavioural scientists.
Finally, the team will ask the people involved in the accident to share their medical records, which allows them to take note of any injuries sustained. These are analysed by biomechanics experts, in cooperation with physicists, to understand the exact causes of the injury.
All the data and knowledge collected is coded and depersonalised. Conclusions from this research are shared with Volvo’s product development teams, who use it to develop and implement new technologies in upcoming cars. The team also identifies things that can’t be solved today – allowing Volvo Cars to remain at the forefront of safety development.
Every year, the team investigates around 30-50 accidents in person, but accidents happen all over the world and the scene can be hard to reach on time. In those cases and to the degree possible, the detectives work to map out accidents with the support from Volvo personnel and emergency services closer to the site.
On top of that, the team also uses other sources of information such as public accident databases found globally to make sure that the necessary steps are taken.
“The Accident Research Team is far from the only source of research data for our safety experts, but it plays an important role for us to really understand the details,” adds Malin Ekholm. “Accidents do still happen, but nowadays the consequences are much milder and serious injuries are much rarer than they used to be.”