Volvo, you might have read, is going to limit the top speed of all the cars it sells from 2021 onwards to 112mph (180km/h).
On the face of it this appears to be little more than a PR stunt to garner goodwill and head-nodding approval from legislators and the public at large. The company says it has made the move as part of its goal that no one should be killed or injured in a Volvo by 2020.
But how many road accidents actually happen at or above 112mph? Gary Baldwin, a forensic collision investigator with the Thames Valley Police, reckons the self-imposed top speed limit’s impact on road deaths will be negligible. “It’s an irrelevance,” he said. “I genuinely think it will have no effect whatsoever.”
There might be more to this than meets the eye, however. Last May the European Commission published a list of 12 new safety features it – or rather the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC), the EU’s go-to advisory body on road safety – wants mandated on new cars from 2021, including among them Intelligent speed assistance (ISA).
These things take time to implement, though, and it was only towards the end of last month that a committee of MEPs voted to approve that list – and there’s still more legislative wrangling to go before it’s all finalised.
The idea is that the mandatory ISA will be switchable “to aid public acceptance at introduction” but that it will default to ‘on’ each time you start the car.
ISA is basically a fusion of adaptive cruise control and traffic sign and speed limit recognition systems. It already exists as an option on some cars, although you imagine it’s going to bump up the price of small, entry-level models by a significant amount (still, it looks like they’re on the way out anyway).
The ETSC suggests that mandatory ISA “is expected to reduce collisions by 30% and deaths by 20%”, although it doesn’t say at which speeds those accidents would no longer be happening, and it’s unclear whether that’s with switchable ISA or with a version that you can’t ever turn off – which is likely where all this is leading.
The implication, or perhaps the inference, is that high speeds – as in motorway velocities and above – need curtailing in order to reduce deaths, but the ETSC’s own figures say only 8% of Europe’s road deaths happen on motorways. The majority (55%) happen on rural non-motorway roads while the rest (37%) occur in towns and cities, and many of those involve pedestrians, cyclists and other vulnerable road users (VRUs) rather than the occupants of a vehicle which may or may not be travelling in excess of the posted speed limit.
So is Volvo pre-empting enforced speed limits by voluntarily – and quite publically – starting to implement them itself? It’s quite a long way from a self-imposed VMax in excess of (nearly) everyone’s motorway speed limit to a system that doesn’t let you break the law, but we are certainly heading in that direction.