Thursday 26 April 2018

The danger of our reliance on the silent co-drivers

New Volvo V40 R-Design T5
New Volvo V40 R-Design T5
Making a dash: Inside the Volvo V40 R Design.
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

I wonder if we ever really think about what is going on in our cars. We get in, start, drive off, listen to the radio, CD, iPod, phone (hands-free please), chat, give out about other disastrous drivers, curse the lights, park, lock and forget about it.

I do, so I presume you are no different.

Of late I've been at a lot of new-model roll-outs and they all had one thing in common: ever-growing lists of technologies designed to avert or minimise the impact of accidents.

They have different names but essentially they do the same thing: monitor, anticipate, assess and intervene to reduce the likelihood or force of an accident.

Such is the breadth and level of safety technology now I think we drivers are getting away with things we would not have a few years back. And that's not good.

Take a look below at some of the stuff on this Volvo V40 T5 R-Design (which is also meant to be, and drove like, a large hot hatch).

And now let's just take one for a moment: City safety it is called, and it has been around for a while in many brands. Maybe a version of it is on your car. The salesman probably told you all about it and then, like most people, it slowly ebbed from memory.

But it is like having another driver with you to help avoid low-speed collisions.

Basically, at speeds between 3.6kmh and 50kmh, city safety uses sensor at the top of the windscreen to monitor 10 metres ahead.

If it looks like a collision is possible, it 'pre-charges' the brakes. And it readies the emergency brake assist system. If you notice the risk and brake, it responds more quickly. If you don't and it looks like you are going to hit the vehicle in front, then city safety, of its own accord, slams on the brakes.

It is calculated that if the speed is 15kmh or lower that your car's braking will be sufficient to avoid a collision. Above that speed, all it can do is reduce the impact speed. But that alone might be the difference between severe injury or just damage to the cars.

When you see it like that you have to admit it is extraordinary. Yet we take it for granted. What worries me most is how inattentive we can be that we don't anticipate the danger. Of course there will always be situations where something happens out of the blue and there is little we can do about it.

But I see a lot of what I would call sleepy drivers in relatively heavy, slow moving traffic who consistently leave it so late to brake that your heart would be in your mouth.

City safety - and the myriad preventative technologies - can only do so much.

But they are, often, doing it so quietly and so behind-the-scenes, if you like, that we have without knowing it, I feel, allowed our driving attention and focus to drift.

I'm not blaming the technology. It is wonderful and God knows how many lives and injuries it has saved. I'm just concerned that the safer they make the cars, the less safe the drivers become. Which sort of defeats the purpose. Unless you believe that the future is with self-driving cars that behave themselves and keep their distance - while you just sit there.

Anyway, I'm glad to get that off my chest. It was prompted by the extensive level of equipment on this Volvo V40 R-Design. Only this is not a car in which you 'just sit there'.

This is an engaging (and I must say good-looking motor) whose 2-litre 245bhp engine packs a real wallop.

It's a strong, roomy, well-thought-out car that is overshadowed by posher names, perhaps, but gave me a great drive. It is all dressed up in R-Design garb but does the business on the road though. Frankly, however, I could not see myself paying €40,000 for it.

Someone asked me what it was all about really and I struggled to come up with an answer.

Until they were gone, of course. And then I got it. This is a fiery Volvo that can be fiercely quick. But it has the ability to curb and tame any excess. Which is more than can be said for some drivers I know.

My side of the road

The road was clear as I came out after a cup of tea and a scone with a good friend.

I was barely in second gear when my rear-view mirror was illuminated by persistent flashing lights of a large man in a Skoda.

The road was narrow and I was driving quickly enough under the circumstances.

The flashing continued. And he seemed to be only inches from my rear bumper. I've been in situations like that before but I've never felt so threatened. This man was in such a rush, or so impatient that he was risking lives.

When I got a chance I pulled over to let him go.

And then followed him - at a respectable distance.

He wasn't travelling much faster and within a kilometre he sedately pulled into a small estate of houses.

So I deduced there was no pressing reason for him to have put lives in peril.

He was just a bully. He just wanted me out of the way. Has it happened to you?

The facts & figures

V40 2-litre T5 R-Design Geartronic:  The 2-litre engine pumps out 245bhp and has emissions of 137g/km which puts it in the €280 road tax bracket.

Price: From €37,995.

Standard equipment includes: City safety, dual-stage driver/passenger airbags, knee airbag for driver, pedestrian airbag technology, side-impact protection systems, inflatable curtains, whiplash protection system, emergency brake assists, ISOFIX attachments, adaptive brake lights, 5ins colour display screen, high-performance sound system (eight speakers), Bluetooth, dynamic chassis, 17ins alloys, special grille, twin exhaust pipes, rear diffuser.

Options on the car tested included: R-Design leather upholstery, Tempa spare wheel, active bending light pack, lowered sports chassis, gearshift paddles.

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