Smoke and Mirrors: Volvo's New Top Speed Limit

In the days preceding the 2019 Geneva Motor Show, Swedish carmaker Volvo announced its intention to limit the top speed of all its cars to 112 mph (180 km/h). This decision will apply for all vehicles manufactured starting 2020, and is described as one of “the most ambitious safety visions in the automotive industry.” In reality, it is all smoke and mirrors in an industry that needs something else altogether.
Volvo limits top speed of all its cars because it can 1 photo
Photo: Volvo
Back in the day, before Volvo’s purchase by Geely, the Swedes were considered the epitome of car safety. The nameplate continues to lead the pack, despite the rise of an increasing number of voices wrongly linking the poor quality of Chinese money with Volvo’s ability to make extremely safe cars.

True to its legacy, Volvo is currently in the middle of an all-out offensive that once completed will ensure no human being will ever die while in one of its cars.

Volvo's plan is in line with a Europe-wide push to cut down on the number of deaths caused by car crashes. According to Eurostat, the Old Continent is already doing much better than it did before. Over the past 10 years (to 2016) the number of fatalities reported in road traffic accidents fell by 40 percent, reaching 50.6 deaths for every million inhabitants.

Eurostat doesn’t go as far as to cite the reasons for the deadly crashes in this report, but these reasons are the usual suspects (also identified by Volvo as culprits): intoxication, distraction, and speeding.

And while there are few things carmakers and even regulators can do about intoxication and distraction, there is something they can do about speeding.

For instance, the European Union is pondering technologies that can automatically limit the speed of the cars in accordance with legal limits, in certain areas. Called Intelligent Speed Adaptation (ISA), the system is meant to “support drivers in helping them to comply with the speed limit everywhere in the network.”

Automatic speed limitation seems like the perfect solution to the speeding scourge. A system that can override or at least forcefully advise the driver not to go beyond a set speed has obvious advantages and will most likely lead to the decrease in the number of accidents, deadly or otherwise.

But automatic limitation of a car’s speed in certain areas is not the same as capping the top speed of the car.

In recent years, carmakers have already begun limiting the top speed of the car, usually to 250 km/h (155 mph). But that’s more of a marketing stunt, as that limitation only has theoretical value. Few drivers actually hit that limit during their lifetime, especially on public roads.

Just as setting the top speed at 250 km/h (155 mph) did little to further bring down the number of crashes and casualties in recent years, so will Volvo’s idea.

Capping the top speed of a car lacks any practicality, for the simple reason that instances when drivers push the pedal so hard that the needle has nowhere else to go are extremely rare.

There are a number of reasons drivers don't go full speed, and they include the limited number of roads where they can do that and the fact that penalties for going that fast elsewhere are extremely severe.

Since we don’t have all that many drivers going full throttle on the world’s roads, there are very few accidents caused by people doing 155 mph. Seriously, when is the last time you heard of a 155 mph crash?

True, it’s nearly impossible to make a statistic about the average speed of cars crashing, mostly because of the large number of variables involved. An NHTSA report from 2005 - attached below - stated that most crashes occur on roads with speed limits of 50 mph or less, very unlikely places for one to go full speed.

So with so very few of us actually going that fast, Volvo’s idea to limit the top speed amounts to nothing really, except perhaps a publicity stunt, one to make Volvo keep the reputation of the world's safest carmakers.
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 Download: 2005 Traffic Safety Facts (PDF)

About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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