Volvo's small family car, the V40, recently scored the highest ever Euro NCAP crash test result, including a class-busting 88% for pedestrian protection. This result is thanks partly to Volvo's innovative pedestrian airbag. The first of its kind, the exterior airbag is designed to protect pedestrians from injury when hit by cars travelling at 12-31mph, and Volvo claims it will cut pedestrian fatalities by 5% and serious injuries by 14%.
We went to Volvo's headquarters in Sweden to find out how it actually works.
To start with, the pedestrian safety system uses seven sensors around the front of the car to identify the type of impact. If the system interprets the object as a person, it fires two pyrotechnic charges to release the bonnet hinges – and it's from here that the pedestrian airbag instantly inflates in case the pedestrian is thrown against the front of the car. In the process it also raises the bonnet by 10cm to help absorb some of the impact.
The airbag covers the lower area of the windscreen and the A-pillars (the side supports to the windscreen), as these are the parts of the car that cause the most serious head injuries.
The pedestrian airbag is fitted as standard in all V40s, although it will cost around £500 to have the airbag replaced and another £700 to replace the bonnet, as this will get damaged by the airbag inflating (these costs may be covered by your insurance). This may be an annoyance if the system is set off by an impact with a large animal, such as a deer, but it seems a small price to pay if it also saves someone's life.
Volvo isn't yet saying if or when the system will be included in other models.