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Volvo Steps Off the Accelerator

This week started with big news in the automotive industry and although you might not consider yourself a car fanatic (just like me), this announcement started a serious debate on where the limits are for carmakers to interfere in a driver’s personal freedom.

But what was announced exactly and why did it create such a stir? Well, as part of its vision 2020, the Swedish (Chinese) carmaker Volvo declared to impose a 180 kilometres per hour speed limit on all of its new cars from 2020 onwards to ensure that nobody will be seriously injured or killed in a new Volvo car. But there is more to it than that: Volvo is also searching for methods to enable intelligent cameras to identify via facial recognition whether the driver is drunk or on drugs. And on top of that, the Swedish carmaker announced to be using so-called ‘geofencing’. With this method, the board computer can control whether the car is close to kindergartens, schools or hospitals and automatically slows down to walking speed. The company has always had an image of prioritising road safety but with its new approach, Volvo is the first carmaker to install a cap across its entire range.

As you can imagine, this news led to very different reactions not only by other car manufacturers but also on the sides of car drivers around the world. So what are the arguments of the supporters and what are the arguments of the opponents?

Those in favour of Volvo’s new measures emphasize that Volvo took a brave step, as it did not wait for government regulations but took the initiative itself. It is in the spirit of the time to create more sustainable transport as it improves air quality and reduces CO2 emissions. Supporters also stress that the general speed limit in Europe already is 120/130 kilometres per hour with the exception of German motorways. In this regard, a 180 speed limit does not make a big difference for most drivers, as they cannot drive quicker anyways. As slower cars will be cheaper in production, some supporters even hope for lower-priced Volvo cars. And of course, those in favour appreciate the attempt to make roads safer.

The opponents, however, stress that a speed limit of 180 kilometres per hour hardly ensures more safety as most accidents happen at way lower speeds. And yes, the new slower Volvo cars will be cheaper in production, but that could also lead to the presumption that Volvo uses these cost reduction measures as a marketing action officially dedicated to the common good of humanity. Critics further ask what will happen to their privacy when their face will be scanned constantly in order to detect whether the person driving is sober and clean. Clearly, not being able to decide on one’s speed can be regarded as limiting individual freedom. As Volvo belongs to a Chinese manufacturer and only the principal office remained in Sweden, it comes as no surprise that Volvo now wants to collect more data and snatch away self-determination from its drivers.

Only the free market will provide answers whether Volvo’s measures are successful by testing whether Volvo gains more customers than it loses. All I can say is that my family, who has a preference for Swedish cars and especially Volvo, will from now on buy no more Volvos. There is a difference between improving security standards and limiting the self-determination of individuals. Even if one does not drive quicker than 180 kilometres per hour, it is nice to have the freedom to still do so and an absurdity to have a company prescribing you where to drive at what pace. What is needed to prevent accidents is more responsibility and driving experience. From next year onwards, we will be able to see whether Volvo, which comes from the Latin word ‘volvere’ and means ‘I roll’, will actually continue to roll.

Caroline Lurz is following a Bachelor in European Studies at UM and writes for the Maastricht Diplomat.


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