New Delhi: Lotta Jakobsson is senior technical specialist of injury prevention at Volvo Cars Safety Centre in Sweden. A global advocate of automobile safety, Jakobsson leads Volvo’s Vision 2020, which envisages the manufacture of cars that will leave their occupants without an injury, no matter how serious an accident it meets with. Eventually, the goal is to manufacture cars that won’t crash. To strike a balance between making a car smarter by not compromising on road safety is a big area of research and debate globally."From our perspective, safety goes first," Jackobsson said in an interview during a visit to New Delhi.
You have come to India at a time when there is a debate going on around road safety. Just to give you a perspective, there were 500,000 road accidents in 2011 and as many as 150,000 people were killed during the year. What do you think when you look at these numbers?
Every number is too many. So, high numbers calls for extra attention, of course.
Does it have something to do with the way people drive in India or how the Indian cars are built?
Traffic safety is all about the humans in the car, the vehicles and the infrastructure. So it all works together. You need to have all for road safety. You need to have good cars. You need to have skilled drivers.
Volvo vehicles are considered to be among the safest. How do you reach such levels of safety?
We develop cars based on humans and we have been doing that since the early 70s. Collecting data and understanding why you are injured, how you are injured if the crash occurs. By having that unique knowledge we know what steps to take. Recently, we addressed situation, which nobody else addressed.
If you leave the road and go into the area around the road, it is a different situation than if you just impact into somebody on the road. It gets more bumpy. You get different types of injuries as compared to the sudden stops. So, typically the injuries that you get is that you impact your head, your arms. If you have a roll over, you can get spine fractures.
Tell us about your Vision 2020.
That’s our short-term perspective. Our long-term vision is to design cars which should not crash. The short-term is that nobody should be killed or injured in a new Volvo car. We take the steps as per the data shows us. We are adding more safety technologies to the car. We also have dialogues with road authorities. We talk about what situations are better handled by them, like separating traffic. For instance, not allowing heavy trucks meeting you in a high speed road without dividing between the roads. We need their help as well. We also develop the technology that addresses braking before impacting.
How practical will be these solutions be for countries like India, Bangladesh and Pakistan?
Different countries have different challenges. Crash worthiness of the car or collision avoidance system will be good in any country. But then again, if you have a pedestrian or a motorcyclist interacting with a truck or a car then there will be imbalance and it becomes very difficult to address those issues technically. In that case, you need to work on other means like separating traffic and that progress is ongoing on in every country at different steps of course.
On one side we are making cars smarter and other side we are trying to address the issue of road safety. How should one strike a balance?
This is a big area of research and the standpoint is that it is good to get information. It is the just the question of what information and when you get it and how? Our strategy in that area is to provide the most essential information in an area where you are looking through towards the road. In our new XC 90, we have a display that gives you most essential information and a bit further down you get the information that is not as crucial but still important and then you have a bit of information further away, which is not needed often such as changing the temperature and all those kind of things. So, making the information selective for the driver will help safety.
Could you highlight three things that will change the way people drive in the next 10 years?
It is more and more towards being autonomous such as helping the driver sustain in different situations. It could be auto braking in situations where the driver is unattentive. It will guide you to follow the car in front of you so that you can be more focused on the traffic around you. Another area is the possibilities of communicating with the infrastructure and other road users...How you make sure that when he is an active driver, he has eyes on roads, hands on wheels...
Some 70-80-% of the cars in India are sold without common safety features such as airbags and ABS (anti-braking system). The general argument that we get from the car makers is that they meet all the required regulations. But is that enough?
From our perspective, safety goes first. That’s very important. We have a lot of innovations through the year when we introduced safety belts in 1959 and then other car makers adopted it. I think if one company takes the lead, it will help other car manufacturers as well. So, that’s one way to developing new technology and making it accessible and thus reducing the cost for such technologies.