Volvo announced that its 2011 and 2012 S60 sedan has earned a Top Safety Pick designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It's another feather in the cap of a company that is long associated with safety, but has suffered a couple of somewhat embarrassing incidents with its more advanced systems in the past year.
The IIHS grants Top Safety Pick status on cars that meet several requirements. First, the vehicle must score Good in the front, side and rear impact tests. Second, it must also score Good in the IIHS roof crush test, which is much more rigorous than the federal rollover test. Finally, it must also have stability control as standard equipment. The S60 aced all the tests, and like any premium car, stability control is part of the standard vehicle.
The problem, of course, is that safety has become a major selling point, and many vehicles these days can survive a crash very well, or at least protect their occupants in a collision. The bar has been raised significantly though, and Volvo is attempting to stay at the forefront with technologies that sense an impending collision and actually intervene to prevent them from occurring. Unfortunately, a couple of demonstrations of its anti-collision technology failed somewhat spectacularly in tests for the media. At one, an S60 crashed headlong into the back of a semi trailer; Volvo blamed an under-charged battery. Search YouTube and you'll see plenty of videos of the pedestrian detection system not working quite as intended, although the circumstances of those videos are always disputable, since the system is only designed to work at low speeds.
I'm not just picking on Volvo here; Mercedes-Benz had its moment in the YouTube sun for a similar failure. Still, it brings to light an important caveat to all the advanced safety systems on cars today. No matter how good they get, or how sophisticated the technology, it'll be a long, long time before any of them are as good as an alert driver. In the meantime, it's good to know that the underlying structure of the car is sturdy enough to save you if the worst happens.
Source: Volvo, YouTube