In 1970, engineers at Volvo Cars set out to determine whether three-point seat belts were safer than lap belts. To do so, they formed a team to investigate accidents involving Volvo vehicles equipped with both types of seat belts, studying the conditions of the accident and the injuries caused to understand the effects of the added shoulder strap.
Nearly 50 years later, the practice of investigating accidents has become ingrained at Volvo and other automakers, such as BMW and Daimler, as a way to learn how to avoid crashes or mitigate their effects. Even as safety and driver-assistance technology improve, these teams are seen as vital to the vehicle development process. It's this kind of research that is credited with innovations such as the collapsible steering column and inclined rear seats.
"There are quite a few examples of new technology derived from what is going on out there," said Malin Ekholm, director of the Volvo Car Safety Center. "Even though there aren't as many accidents happening anymore, the learning from accidents is still crucial."
Like Volvo, BMW and Daimler formed their investigative groups decades earlier -- BMW in 1976 and Daimler in 1969. While much has changed for those automakers over the years, the mission of these teams has remained constant: to gather as much data as possible to make future vehicles safer.