The 2011 Volvo S60 comes with a world-first system that could potentially eliminate the possibility of those kinds of tragic mishaps.
Volvo says that in the U.S., about 11 percent, or 4,700, of all traffic fatalities are pedestrians. In Europe it's about 14 percent, and in China 26 percent.
The system identifies pedestrians in the road ahead and then, if the driver fails to respond in time, applies full braking power to come to a complete stop just short of the pedestrian.
At a Volvo event this past week, we tested the system firsthand, accelerating to nearly 20 mph and heading straight to a child-size dummy. Just at the point where a collision seemed inevitable, a chime warned us, a bar illuminated on the windshield, and then the brakes slammed on, stopping just a foot or more from the dummy.
The goal with the project is to avoid all collisions at speeds of under 25 miles per hour. And at higher speeds, to reduce the collision speed and severity as much as possible.
But thankfully the system doesn't bring you to a stop all the time, for things that you're already maneuvering around—or if, for instance, a bicycle cuts ahead of you when you're slowly trolling for parking. That would be annoying.
Testing it on another run, we started to touch the steering wheel and steer around the dummy; then, the system allowed us to make an emergency maneuver with no application of the brake. Full Auto Brake recognizes any abrupt movement of the steering wheel outside of normal small adjustments as a recognition that you've seen the obstacle and are attempting to steer around it.
The way it works is far from simple. A camera just ahead of the rearview mirror and a radar unit mounted in the grille work together with a central control unit; they help determine how far away the object is and what type of object it is.
The brakes are pre-charged just a moment before, with an alarm sounding. If there's still no response, then full braking is applied.
Full Auto Brake with Pedestrian Detection - 2011 Volvo S60
Full Auto Brake will stop for stopped cars as well, but those are considerably easier to identify.
In the future, Volvo hopes to broaden the concept to higher speeds and to include other hazardous situations, as part of the automaker's Vision 2020 goal to have no injuries or fatalities on (or on) its vehicles by 2020.
And Volvo is giving the S60 much more than class-leading safety features this time around; over at MotorAuthority you'll also want to check out our first driving impressions for this 300-hp, all-wheel-drive sport sedan.