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Had One Too Many? Volvo Big Brother System Will Stop Car, Call for Help

250104_Driver_Monitoring_Camera_in_a_Volvo_research_vehicle.jpg Driver-monitoring camera in Volvo research vehicle | Manufacturer image

Come lutefisk and gravlax time, have all the glogg you want — just have someone else drive your Volvo home. That admonition applies to any car, but Volvo aims to keep tabs to ensure any smorgasbord-soused drivers don’t get far. As part of a plan to eliminate traffic fatalities in its cars, the Swedish automaker will deploy in-car cameras and other sensors early next decade to intuit distracted or drunk driving and take preemptive action.

Related: Subaru Forester’s Driver Camera Isn’t Recording (But Another One Is)

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Some readers may fear having a “storebror” in store, but Volvo is hardly the first to brandish Big Brother technology. In-car systems that analyze your face for signs of distraction or fatigue have existed globally for at least a decade, and cars as mainstream as the Subaru Forester can now monitor you.

Most systems purport to detect fatigue and trigger dashboard warnings to pull over and rest or get some caffeine. Volvo’s aim to specifically curb distracted and intoxicated driving, then spur actions all the way up to calling an operator and stopping the car, is among the most aggressive moves yet. But the automaker cites U.S. government data showing some 30 percent of all traffic deaths involved intoxicated drivers.

In a statement, Volvo said sensors and monitors can cut intoxication and distraction by allowing “the car to intervene if a clearly intoxicated or distracted driver does not respond to warning signals and is risking an accident involving serious injury or death.”

Look Alive, You’re on Camera!

Such intervention “could involve limiting the car’s speed, alerting the Volvo on Call assistance service and, as a final course of action, actively slowing down and safely parking the car,” Volvo continued. Extended periods of no steering input or closed or distracted eyes, as well as weaving across lanes or reacting too slowly, constitute examples of behavior that could prompt Volvo to intervene.

The automaker’s next-generation platforms will incorporate the technology globally “in the early 2020s,” Volvo said. The intention “would be to bring them to the U.S.,” spokesman Jim Nichols confirmed to Cars.com.

Details on exact camera positions will come, but a video posted by Volvo suggests the cameras sit in the vehicle’s A-pillars. Should a driver display dangerous behavior without stopping, the car would take escalating actions — first warning you through alerts, then slowing down and patching in an operator through the telematics system, and finally pulling over to stop while the operator “sends further help if needed.”

What exactly does “help” mean, pray tell? Nichols said it’s still undetermined. 

“This is an element that is still under development,” he said in an email. “We will share more in the future as the product is ready to roll out.”

Who’s Watching This?

Could it share camera footage with authorities or other third parties? That much is unclear. Asked if the in-car cameras could store a recording — something Subaru claims its driver camera doesn’t do — or transmit the video feed elsewhere, Nichols said it doesn’t need to.

“All of the data is analyzed in real time, so there is no need to either record or send the data somewhere,” he wrote. “As a sensor, it is constantly analyzing to provide feedback to the driver.”

Asked if that means Volvo definitively won’t record or transmit data, Nichols said yes. “That does mean the car will not record video and transmit it,” he confirmed.

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Imposing Speed Limits

The announcement comes after Volvo said it would limit the top speed on all its cars to 112 mph from 2020, citing the dangers of speeding. Separately, the automaker will add a system called Care Key as standard equipment to all models beginning in the 2021 model year. Similar to Ford’s MyKey, Care Key allows owners to set the speed limit on their Volvo before handing the fob to someone else, such as a valet or less experienced driver.

The automaker’s plan to end fatalities began in 2008, when it announced a goal of zero deaths or serious injuries in a new Volvo by 2020.

Editor’s note: This story was updated March 21, 2019, with additional information on data collection.

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