Car innovations, such as the pedestrian airbag on Volvo’s V40 hatchback, are great news for road safety. But the bad news for motorists is that such complex new safety systems could make cars more costly to own.
Volvo’s innovative new pedestrian airbag system is a world first. Fitted as standard equipment to the new V40 hatchback, it goes further to protect pedestrians than other bonnet offerings, such as the Jaguar XF system.
While others deploy the airbag under the bonnet to lessen the impact for a pedestrian’s head, the V40’s airbag pops out the top of the bonnet and up the car’s A-pillars creating a cushion covering these areas.
The new technology is part of Volvo’s corporate strategy to eliminate injuries in and around its cars by 2020. In the V40 it works alongside an upgraded version of the firm’s City Safety system, which now automatically stops the car at speeds up to 31mph (instead of 19mph) if a collision is imminent.
Between them, these systems aim to wipe out the vast majority of traffic fatalities (14% of road deaths in Europe are pedestrians) and either prevent or lessen the severity of urban shunts.
Who will foot the bill for safety innovations?
While this is all great news for pedestrians, it may not be so good for motorists in the long run for a couple of reasons.
At Which? Car we recently investigated a case where a Jaguar XF bonnet airbag was activated by a very small, light food waste caddy.
During our investigation we came across other cases where XF owners claimed their cars’ airbags had gone off after leaves landed on the bonnet, and in one case when they hadn’t noticed anything touching it at all.
In the case of one Which? member, his insurance company covered the £3k cost of getting his car roadworthy again, but he had to pay the excess and risk the chance of his premiums rising in future.
Rising insurance premiums
That said, the vast majority of car airbags will only go off when they’re supposed to – and protect people in an accident, so of course they are a good thing – and I applaud Volvo for taking the lead in improving road safety.
However, I have two longer-term concerns with airbags: how long will they last, and how much will they cost to replace? Carmakers need to be more up-front about both of these things. After all, if the airbags on a 10-year-old mainstream car need replacing, it’s highly likely the cost will render the car a write-off, even though it may be otherwise mechanically sound.
This smacks of carmakers finding areas where they can build in obsolescence and force motorists to replace cars before they really need to. Worse still are the insurance companies – why aren’t they working with carmakers to offer drivers of safer cars lower premiums, rather than constantly hiking them?
My worry here is that if cars do become more costly to repair because they’re fitted with complex safety equipment, insurers will simply use this as another excuse to raise premiums.