I’ve worked with vehicle and traffic safety for the last 16 years at Volvo – doing different things – but I have had the immense fortune of working in an international collaboration environment this whole time. And I can’t imagine a better source for inspiration and learning!
Volvo Group is one of the largest manufacturers of commercial vehicles in the world. And we are proud of the vehicles and machines we produce under our several brands. But none of this would be possible without close collaboration and partnerships. We spend about 2 billion Euros on R&D every year, and although that is substantial, we can multiply that several times over through collaboration. Collaboration around traffic safety is perhaps more important than for most areas. Incidents and crashes happens as the result of a complex chain of events, and behind every crash there is a multitude of factors.
We can have the most intelligent road design – with perfectly placed signs and signals – all based on every conceivable best practice. And we can have the best vehicle you can image with passive safety features and state of the art active safety systems – But, a driver with poor judgement takes a couple of drinks and then all that might come crashing down, quite literally. So, it is a problem with many variables – involving behavior, technology and policy – so cross-disciplinary and cross-sector collaboration is not just a good idea – it is a necessity. And by the way, the problem with drink-driving is not an acceptable excuse why some crashes happen – it is actually one more problem we have to solve.
I’m reminded of work I was involved in myself when I started in 2004. Distracted driving and impairment are among the biggest issues in automotive safety. And in 2004 we were looking for solutions to drowsy driving. It became very clear that there was a huge lack of knowledge globally, and no real methods to even conduct proper automotive development. Sure there was medical experience and sensor developments. But, even in medical science, sleep and drowsiness are frontiers. It is an issue that involves human physiology, psychology and behavior, sensor technology, vehicles, and laws and regulation. However, we managed to put together a true triple-helix collaboration involving medical experts, human factors experts, tech developers, and regulators. And we did a lot of basic research into sleep, impaired driving, and devised testing methods and validation protocols – and in 2008 we could offer a fantastic driver support system called Driver Alert – which is based on a Volvo Cars detection algorithm, I should add. This is not an end to drowsy driving. But it was a huge step and a great example of successful triple-helix collaboration.
SAFER – the multi-stakeholder research partnership hosted by Chalmers, Sweden - is, by design, capturing this whole idea. One way SAFER has played a particularly important role is by bringing a very clear human factors, or rather a human-centric, perspective – from biomechanics to understanding driver behavior to mobility.
At Volvo Group we have spent the last fifty years going out to crash sites – doing on-site and post-crash investigations – to understand better how accidents occur. Because we need to get the full picture of what happens on the streets in order to invest in the right developments. How else can we be confident we have the right priorities that truly make a difference? But this after-the-fact studies – it kind of is like working in the dark. Through SAFER we have built new tools and methods to study safety. Naturalistic Driving Studies and Field Operational Trials, are areas where SAFER has been true pioneers. And it has revolutionized our work with accidentology and development of safety systems. We now have much better tools for understanding. This has shed much more light, then, on crash causation. All safety solutions we develop benefit from this today.
The triple-helix idea, is the fact that the private and public sectors – who are tackling the same ultimate concerns – collaborate to develop joint problem statements and outline roadmaps for how to address them, which are then aided and validated by academic studies and scientific evidence. This is what ensures that we are pulling in the same direction, and prioritizing resources towards the right measures.
If you consider the enormous challenges we are facing in the transport sector to make it truly sustainable – the climate challenge and 1.3 million fatalities not least – and the constantly evolving technologies that we hope might address them: electromobility, automation, connectivity, AI, and so on. Then you realize we are moving into new uncharted territory every day – as manufacturers, as innovators and as legislators – so, clearly, there is a need for even closer collaboration in the future to understand how to make the right choices and leverage all opportunities!
February 18, 2020