Safety first: 5 lifesavers you may not know were pioneered by Volvo

By topgear, 30 April 2021

Mention Volvo and the first thing that comes to mind is safety. The Swedish marque is famous for pioneering the three-point seatbelt in 1959 courtesy of engineer Nils Bohlin. However, it is not the only safety feature invented by the Swedish marque as Volvo is also responsible for a number of other life-saving breakthroughs. Here are five other safety innovations by Volvo that you might not have been aware of.

1. Rearward-facing child seat

In 1972, Volvo introduced the world’s first rearward-facing child seat to protect newborn children during a frontal crash. Unlike adults, the head of a newborn child will experience four times more force in a frontal crash as a child’s head accounts for 25 percent of its body weight, doubling the risks of severe spinal injury. To counter this, Volvo came up with an ingenious solution: the rearward-facing child seat. 

In a frontal crash, the back of the rear-facing seat will prevent the child’s head from being thrown forward in a whiplash motion; the seat will instead keep the child’s head and back straight, thus reducing the risks of serious spinal injury significantly.

2. Booster seat

For a seatbelt to work, it needs to fit well with the proportions of the body it is protecting. However, most seat belts don’t fit for children under 10 years old due to shoulder belts (the part of the belt that crosses the chest) being anchored too high up while the average vehicle seat is too deep for most young children, causing them to slouch and throwing off the placement of the lap belt (the part of the belt that crosses below the abdomen). 

What this means is that the shoulder belt will rest against the neck instead of crossing the centre of the chest and resting between the neck and shoulder. The lap belt, on the other hand, will move further up the abdomen. This presents a risk to the child’s neck and abdomen in an event of a crash. Hence, in 1978, Volvo introduced the first ever booster seat which ensured the child sits high enough for the shoulder belt to cross their chest as the lap belt rests below the abdomen to boost the seatbelt’s efficiency.

3. Side Impact Protection System (SIPS)

Unlike the front and rear of a car, the side of the car lacks crumple zones and critically, in a side impact collision, the distance between occupants and point of impact is often only a few inches away. This means greater risks of fatal injuries as this type of accident typically involves intrusion into the passenger compartment.

With this problem in mind, the Side Impact Protection System (SIPS) was born. This Volvo invention was first introduced in 1991 for the 700, 900 and 850 series cars. It reinforces the lower sill, B-pillar and energy absorbing materials inside the doors to distribute the energy uniformly across the side, and not just on the B-pillar alone. Additionally, the vehicle’s seats are bolted on transverse steel rails rather than directly to the floor, allowing the seats to crush a reinforced centre console to better mitigate side collision impact. 

Then in 1994 and 1998, Volvo followed up with the ‘SIPS-airbag’ for the 850 and curtain-style airbags in the 1998 S80 for better protection of the head and torso during side collisions.

4. Whiplash Protection System (WHIPS)

Consisting of energy-absorbing backrests and specially designed head restraints in the front seats, WHIPS saw the light of day in 1998 when Volvo launched the S80 for the 1999 model year. It has since been standard equipment in all new Volvo models. 

Seats equipped with WHIPS provide improved neck protection in rear-end collisions by lowering the seat backrests and head restraints via a pivot at the base of the seat mechanism, allowing the seat to move rearward to absorb the impact force. This effectively changes the seating position in a way that significantly reduces whiplash motion, cutting the risks of severe neck injury considerably.

As further proof of the efficacy of Volvo’s WHIPS system, the Swedish marque’s traffic accident research team discovered that WHIPS-equipped seats see a significant reduction in short-term neck injury by 33 percent and a reduction in long-term neck injuries by a whopping 54 percent.

5. Blind Spot Information System (BLIS)

Drivers of newer cars will be familiar with that tiny warning light flashing in the side mirror every time someone enters the blind spot. This commonly occurs when changing lanes. This feature is pioneered by Volvo back in 2003, with the carmaker believing a car should help drivers watch out for trouble during a lane change.

This feature utilises cameras or radars to detect vehicles entering the driver’s blind spot, and flashes the warning light in the side mirror to warn you that it is not safe to change lanes just yet. Once the danger has passed, the warning light will stop flashing to let you know it is already safe to switch lanes.  


Words: Arif Sharif