Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


Car giant sets target of zero road deaths by 2020

June 2009

Volvo has set itself the unusual goal of ensuring that nobody is seriously injured or killed in accidents involving any of its new cars within 11 years.

The Swedish multinational thinks the ambitious aim can be achieved through a combination of new technology, driver education programmes, and lobbying for road infrastructure improvements. It believes the two most effective ways will be to improve the safety of its cars and to form partnerships with ‘other key players in society’.

The partnerships are likely to be modelled on an existing ‘long-term co-operative agreement’ with Sweden’s National Road Administration (NRA) – the body charged with responsibility for Sweden’s road infrastructure. The two parties are working on allying Volvo’s in-car technology with highway improvements.

Volvo has developed systems that read road markings and warn drivers if they are heading into the wrong driving lane. With the NRA it is investigating how ‘vehicles and roads can communicate with one another for increased safety’.

It says improvements ‘must occur in parallel’ in all areas if it is to achieve its goal. However, it has no set budget to support its target and was unable to tell EP how it would report on or measure its progress.

‘We now have 11 years to meet our goal, so for us that is two car generations,’ said Anders Eugensson, Volvo Cars’ safety specialist.

The company’s newly released integrated 2008-09 Corporate Report, which focuses on sustainability issues, mentions the word ‘safety’ 101 times in its 36 pages and says Volvo aims for ‘no serious injuries or deaths in or by a Volvo car by the year 2020’.

It says the policy, a key aspect of its social responsibility programmes, is an extension of its long-term emphasis on safety. It hopes the new goal will enhance its brand image and therefore aid financial performance.

Eugensson said the target was ‘unique’ among car manufacturers and was a recognition that the company’s ‘social responsibility... extends to people in other vehicles and pedestrians’. He added: ‘We are very clear about the fact that our cars should not negatively affect other people at the moment of an accident.’  

Volvo, which sold 374,297 cars worldwide in 2008 and had a $14.7billion (£9.5bn) turnover, calls its goal challenging but realistic. Although 93 per cent of traffic accidents are caused by human error, the company believes technology can often override that error. This year Volvo produced a ‘concept car’ that can detect a pedestrian in its path and activate full braking power to avoid an accident.

Other avenues being explored  include an in-car ‘alert control’, which warns tired drivers by detecting that their driving patterns are becoming irregular, and an ‘alcohol lock’, which prevents them from starting a car under the influence.

Volvo concedes that technology is not enough, and that it must attempt to develop traffic safety awareness ‘at the local level’.

The World Health Organization estimates that annually 1.2 million people are killed and 50 million injured in traffic accidents.

Volvo | Europe | Product Responsibility

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