Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Little red dots help make driving safer

I followed avidly the four red dots that appeared now and then in a row in the lower half of the windscreen.

I followed avidly the four red dots that appeared now and then in a row in the lower half of the windscreen. At first these red dots slightly irritated me but after nearly 400 miles of mainly motorway driving I took great comfort in their presence.

This was because the red dots are a safety measure. They indicated to me that I needed to put a safer distance between myself and the car in front. This gap seemed a lot but is calculated on a safe stopping distance.

But the alarming (yet obvious) thing that struck me about my red-dot experience was that on motorways drivers rarely keep a safe distance from each other. No wonder there are so many accidents.

Along with an amber light that warned me that a vehicle was passing my offside blind spot (or nearside), the little jiggle of sound - similar to the sound made by a cymbal - that struck up each time the car wandered out of my chosen lane, these were all devices aimed at keeping me safe.

Overall, instead of feeling that I was being nannied - which I am sure some drivers might feel when offered such safety measures - I felt that the carmaker actually cared about my fate at the wheel of one of its products.

But that is nothing new when it comes to the manufacturer of this week’s drive, the Volvo XC60 R-Design. For Volvo, over many decades, has always shown consideration for the people who buy and drive its cars.

It might have been considered completely unnecessary when eons ago it seems Volvo came up with daytime running lights: now everyone has them. Volvo might have been a bit of a nag when it insisted way back that cars should carry as many airbags as possible: again it has been totally vindicated.

Most other carmakers have been playing catch-up since and some still lag behind. But overall the safety innovations that Volvo devised have been replicated because motorists at last started to value their skins and demanded higher safety standards.

We are told that the number of road deaths is going down overall yet it was reported that during these same winter months in 2014 - from January to March - there were 380 road deaths. That represented a 13 per cent rise on the same period in 2013.

So although we are also told that in the long term the number of road fatalities overall is going down, do you think our roads are safer to drive on? I certainly do not.

Largely the culprits are bad drivers, impatient drivers - careless drivers. Volvo realised long ago that if it were left entirely up to these kinds of drivers a free-for-all on our roads would lead to confusion, collision and more deaths.

So, the Swedish carmaker ramped up safety as a number one priority in its car manufacture. This week’s drive, the Volvo XC60, is living proof of this lasting ethos.

We cannot help but go back to the age-old question: what price safety? Well, in the case of the Volvo XC60 there is something called the driver safety pack that costs an extra £1,900.

You might regard this as an unnecessary outlay, I would say given the conditions on today’s roads, it is an essential buy - as important as any other aspect of choosing a new car.

Surely £1,900 is not a lot to fork out for peace of mind - your own as well as your passengers. Because as well as the assured Volvo construction of the car and standard safety measures you get the following: collision warning with full auto brake (featuring the red dots mentioned above); pedestrian and cyclist detection; ACC (Adaptive Cruise Control) and distance alert, queue assist (automatic only), lane keeping aid (D4 only) or lane departure warning (not D4) - the “cymbal sound” I referred to above; DAC (driver alert control) with active high beam; road sign information display; BLIS (blind spot information system) with CTA (cross traffic alert).

I know people get a bit fed up with the barrage of acronyms that car sales people throw at them when discussing what options you want on your car. But it is worth persevering with them and getting what you want, safety or otherwise.

Of course the R-Design feature on the Volvo is a boon to its overall design and look. I think it follows logically that Volvo has just reported this month its best sales figures in the UK for a decade.

The message has got through that Volvos needed to be lighter and better looking - to attain a certain “wow” factor. Certainly on the evidence of the test car, the Volvo XC60 - which was simply a reassuring pleasure to drive - the looks are there. And so was the performance without compromising on Volvo’s mission to put safety first.

• Test car: Volvo XC60 D 4 Manual R-Design Lux Nav Engine Transmission. Model as tested, including options/ accessories £46,010

• Engine and gearbox combinations: 181 hp/6-speed manual. The model tested had a Passion Red exterior with an R-Design leather sports off black interior

• Options include:Winter illumination pack £675, heated front seats, heated front windscreen, active bending Xenon headlights with corner light function, headlight cleaning system, heated washer nozzles, rear theatre lights, front door pocket, side step and front cupholder illumination, autodimming interior and exterior mirrors. The family pack costs £295 and includes two integrated two-stage booster cushions and power child locks

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