Volvo Introduces in-Car Cameras to Combat Drunk and Distracted Driving

Volvo announced that it would use cameras installed inside its vehicles to monitor driver behavior and intervene if the driver appears to be drunk or distracted. It’s a risky move by an automaker, even one with a reputation for safety like Volvo, which could raise concerns among privacy advocates. 

Volvo’s in-car cameras will monitor eye movements to gauge driver distraction or intoxication. If a driver looks away for some time, such as at a smartphone, or fails to keep their hands on the steering wheel, a representative from Volvo’s on-call assistance centers will call them to check in. Drivers who aren’t watching the road, or even have their eyes closed, will be warned as well. If they don’t respond, the car will slow and also stop. The system will roll-out to all Volvo cars by early 2020. 

This follows Volvo’s recent announcement that it will be limiting the top speed on all of its vehicles to 180 km/h (112 mph) in a bid to reduce traffic fatalities. Volvo is framing these new policies as crucial components in its Vision 2020 goal, in which no one is killed or seriously injured in a Volvo vehicle by 2020. Over the years, the company built its reputation on safety and quirky designs, and today’s announcement is meant to underline that.

“When it comes to safety, our aim is to avoid accidents altogether rather than limit the impact when an accident is imminent and unavoidable,” Henrik Green, senior vice president for research and development at Volvo Car Group, said in a statement. “In this case, cameras will monitor for behavior that may lead to serious injury or death.”

The use of in-car cameras to monitor drivers is not entirely unprecedented. Cadillac uses infrared cameras facing the driver to power its advanced driver assist system, Super Cruise. The camera tracks the driver’s eye movements, allowing for a “hands-free” driving experience. If the driver’s attention wanders, Super Cruise uses an escalating series of audible and vibrating alerts to ensure the driver keeps their eyes on the road.

As camera use increases in the name of safety, there’s a real chance they can be misused to invade privacy. At an event in Sweden, the company preemptively dismissed this criticism by likening it to early objection to seatbelt laws. 

A spokesperson for Volvo did not immediately respond to questions about the storage of video footage or whether law enforcement could have access to it. Automakers are already collecting lots of information from your car today, but mostly for vehicle analytics. 

GM has said that the camera in its Cadillac cars isn’t recording anything; it’s just a buffered video feed to make sure Super Cruise works as it should.

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