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Imagining a driving future free of accidents and fatalities

In 1961, President Kennedy made a bold announcement: The United States was going to safely put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Nothing like this had ever been done. In fact, Russia had sent the first human being into space just over a month earlier. Nonetheless, America reached the moon on a momentous day in 1969. Since that time, "moon-shot" has become shorthand for any lofty or ambitious plan.

Swedish automaker Volvo recently announced its own moon-shot. By the year 2020, Volvo says, its new vehicles will be virtually death-proof. In other words, no occupants will be injured or killed while riding in them (discounting acts of suicide and extreme stupidity). Can it be done?

The goal may actually be within reach, thanks to some very sophisticated technologies being developed by many different automakers. Volvo's strategy involves combining a group of safety features that will essentially automate the driving experience (or take over if human drivers are about to make a fatal mistake). Most of these features are already available from Volvo and other car companies. They include:

  • Collision-avoidance systems with automatic braking capability
  • Pedestrian-detection systems
  • Large-animal detection systems
  • Lane-keeping assistance (to prevent drifting and swerving)
  • Adaptive cruise control (works like regular cruise control but with sensors that can help the car maintain a set distance from the vehicle ahead of it)

Considering that human error and bad choices play a role in the vast majority of car accidents, the most logical way to reduce crashes is to relieve humans of driving duties. So could we achieve the moon-shot goal of a fatality-free driving experience in just a few years? Only time will tell, but this goal is definitely worth pursuing.

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