Volvo has a long history of safety in its production vehicles, but the automaker is poised to take an additional step beyond passive and reactionary systems to more active measures that address distracted and intoxicated drivers. In a press release issued yesterday, Volvo will utilise in-car cameras in its next-generation models to monitor and evaluate the responsiveness of drivers. In the event a driver is deemed impaired in some manner, the vehicles autonomous safety systems can intervene on various levels and also call the authorities. Sort-of, anyway.

“When it comes to safety, our aim is to avoid accidents altogether rather than limit the impact when an accident is imminent and unavoidable,” says Henrik Green, senior vice president for research and development at Volvo. “In this case, cameras will monitor for behaviour that may lead to serious injury or death.”

Specific details on how this system will operate aren’t available as of yet. In theory, the cameras will catch drivers who may have their eyes closed or directed away from the road for extended periods of time. Outside of the camera’s eye, the vehicle will also monitor steering input and recognise excessive weaving or wandering, something many current lane-keep assist systems already do.

Gallery: Volvo in-car cameras for intoxicated drivers

If the vehicle decides the driver is distracted or impaired, Volvo says a variety of warnings and automonous responses could come into play, including limiting the car’s speed and even bringing the car to a stop in a safe manner. The vehicle can also contact Volvo’s On Call service, which we suspect would promptly dispatch medical personnel and/or police officers to your location. 

We’ve seen similar proposals from other automakers, but Volvo appears ready to bring this monitoring system to fruition. A discussion on privacy and individual rights is virtually guaranteed to develop as a result of this system, but it’s a discussion Volvo wants to have. Combined with the automaker’s recent announcement that it would limit the top speed on all its vehicles to 112 MPH, this latest step suggests Volvo is absolutely serious about taking active measures to prevent accidents.

Volvo plans to implement the cameras in its next-generation models utilising the SPA2 platform, which will launch throughout the early 2020s.

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Volvo Cars today reveals a new step in its ambitions to end fatalities in its cars by addressing the issues of intoxication and distraction.

Apart from speeding, which the company aims to help combat with a top speed limit, intoxication and distraction are two other primary areas of concern for traffic safety. Together, these three areas constitute the main ‘gaps’ towards Volvo Cars’ vision of a future with zero traffic fatalities, and require a focus on human behaviour in the company’s safety work as well.

For example, figures by NHTSA show that in the United States, almost 30 per cent of all traffic fatalities in vehicles in 2017 involved intoxicated drivers.

Volvo Cars believes intoxication and distraction should be addressed by installing in-car cameras and other sensors that monitor the driver and allow the car to intervene if a clearly intoxicated or distracted driver does not respond to warning signals and is risking an accident involving serious injury or death.

That intervention could involve limiting the car’s speed, alerting the Volvo On Call assistance service and, as a final course of action, actively slowing down and safely parking the car.

“When it comes to safety, our aim is to avoid accidents altogether rather than limit the impact when an accident is imminent and unavoidable,” says Henrik Green, Senior Vice President, Research & Development at Volvo Cars. “In this case, cameras will monitor for behaviour that may lead to serious injury or death.”

Examples of such behaviour include a complete lack of steering input for extended periods of time, drivers who are detected to have their eyes closed or off the road for extended periods of time, as well as extreme weaving across lanes or excessively slow reaction times.

A driver-monitoring system as described above is an important element of allowing the car to actively make decisions in order to help avoid accidents that could result in severe injuries or death.

“There are many accidents that occur as a result of intoxicated drivers,” says Trent Victor, Professor of Driver Behaviour at Volvo Cars. “Some people still believe that they can drive after having had a drink, and that this will not affect their capabilities. We want to ensure that people are not put in danger as a result of intoxication.”

Introduction of the cameras on all Volvo models will start on the next generation of Volvo’s scalable SPA2 vehicle platform in the early 2020s. Details on the exact amount of cameras and their positioning in the interior will follow at a later stage.

Today’s announcement should be viewed together with the company limiting the top speed on all its cars to 180kph (112mph) from model year 2021, in order to send a strong signal about the dangers of speeding.

The company wants to start a conversation about whether car makers have the right, or maybe even the obligation, to install technology in cars that changes their drivers’ behaviour. Both the speed limit and the installation of in-car cameras illustrate how car makers can take active responsibility for the aim of achieving zero traffic fatalities by supporting better driver behaviour.

Volvo Cars today also revealed the Care Key, which allows Volvo drivers to impose limitations on the car’s top speed on all cars from model year 2021, before lending their car to others.

The Care Key, the monitoring cameras, the speed limit as well as existing driver-assistance systems all serve one single aim: to support safer driving.