Safety doesn't grab headlines the way other car features do. It isn't sexy. Publications focus on horsepower and torque, and track times, and occasionally, fuel economy and towing capacity get attention. But you'll rarely see the cover of a magazine with the headline, "Fresh Pics of the World's Safest Car." Yet safety is one of the most important aspects of a car, one Volvo continues to champion.

For a long time, the Swedish automaker has paid close attention to the safety of its cars, frequently conducting tests that are above and beyond what is legally mandated. There have been cases of Volvos that were designed, tested and went on sale before new safety regulations were enacted and still were able pass the tests once the standards took effect. Having the safest possible cars on the road is a core value of the company, and it has been since the beginning.

A legacy of safety

This is a company that has sent a safety team to investigate every accident in Sweden that involves a Volvo for the last 45 years. It was the first company to use a 3-point seat belt in its cars way back in 1959. (Lap belts had been optional in a few manufacturers' cars before then.) Volvo has been researching and developing child safety seats for more than 50 years, having developed the first rear-facing child seat prototype in 1964.

That dedication to safety continues to this day, with Volvo's investment in AstaZero, the first proving ground designed entirely to test safety in a controlled, real-world environment. Volvos continue to perform well in tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Volvo recently announced that four of its vehicles, the 2015 S60, V60, S80 and XC60, are on the list of IIHS Top Safety Pick+ cars. (The XC70 wasn't tested and there isn't a 2015 XC90, in anticipation of the all-new 2016 model.) Two 2015 Volvos were tested by NHTSA, and both did very well; the XC60 received five stars overall,  five stars in a frontal and side crashes, and four stars in rollover, while the S60 earned five stars across the board.

Also: Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards of 2015

The next model to go on sale will be the 2016 XC90. In addition to pre-crash protection in rear-end collisions, a new seat design to protect against whiplash injuries, next-generation Roll Stability Control, and three-row airbag curtains, it will also have run-off road protection and automatic braking at intersections. The automatic braking system kicks in if the person driving the Volvo is turning left in front of an oncoming car that's going faster than the Volvo driver expected. This system is designed to reduce the possibility of an accident in busy areas, and roads with higher speed limits.

Run-off road

Volvo has been doing extensive research into protecting passengers in the event that their car ends up going off the road. This could be due to fatigue or bad weather, or when avoiding an animal or another car. According to Volvo, half of all traffic fatalities in the United States are caused by crashes that happen when a car leaves the roadway. While this may be a pessimistic way of looking at driving, examining and anticipating what could happen is the best way to prepare for it.

Under these circumstances, the car moves in many different -- and sometimes random -- directions. That's why Volvo's system uses sensors, electronic belt tensioners and new seat tech with the goal of reducing injuries and fatalities. When equipped with this system, if a Volvo goes off the road, sensors cause the seat belts to tighten while the car is moving to make sure everyone on board is sitting in the right position. The seats' new design uses energy absorption within three pieces of carefully designed metal under the seat bottom. When the car lands, this design helps to reduce the severity of spine injuries. The vehicles are also available with technology like a Lane Keeping Aid; Driver Alert Control, which warns a driver if he/she is getting tired; and Rest Stop Guidance. These may help avoid going off the road in the first place. 

Tests upon tests

Even though there aren't any specific government tests for this type of accident, Volvo has been doing its own evaluation of run off-road accidents. We watched one of these tests, in which a 2016 XC90 travelling at about 50 mph goes off the road. It hit a berm, went airborne, and ended up in a ditch. You can watch the test we witnessed right here.

Volvo has a campaign called Vision 2020. As Dr. Peter Mertens, Senior Vice President Research and Development of Volvo Car Group explains, "The new technologies will take us a significant step closer to our vision that no one will be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo car by 2020. Our starting point on safety is the same today as it was when the company was created almost 90 years ago: real-life situations. We study data. We crunch numbers. We innovate. The result is one of the safest cars ever made." It is also the kind of technology may pave the way for driverless cars.



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