A NEW hatchback from Swedish car maker Volvo will become the world's first production car to be fitted with an airbag to protect pedestrians.
The Volvo V40 will have an airbag system that will cover the whole front section of the vehicle if a pedestrian is struck. It is designed to protect the head of the pedestrian from further injury after the initial impact.
Pedestrians often suffer severe injuries when their head strikes either the engine or suspension mounts under the car bonnet.
Last year, 189 pedestrians were killed on Australian roads, about 15 per cent of the national road toll.
The Volvo airbag is positioned in front of the car's windscreen, deploying if the car's sensors detect an impact at the front bumper. The bonnet lifts up, creating extra space for it to cave in under the weight of the pedestrian, while the airbag covers the top section of the bonnet, the lower section of the windscreen and the windscreen pillars in a stretched U shape.
No images or footage of the system have been shown yet.
While many new cars, particularly European-made vehicles, are fitted with "pyrotechnic" bonnets that pop up to create extra space above the engine, Volvo's system is claimed to be the first with an integrated airbag to be fitted to a production vehicle.
The new technology has been designed specifically to retain a top score under the new EuroNCAP safety test scoring system, which will incrementally increase the importance of pedestrian safety in its scoring criteria. The Australasian arm of the crash testing body, ANCAP, will also phase in stricter ratings over the next five years.
Hakan Abrahamsson, program manager for the V40, says the new model is "the most intelligent and safe Volvo model so far".
"With this class-leading safety package, including enhanced focus on pedestrian protection, the all-new V40 aims for a full star rating in the new, sharpened 2012 Euro NCAP safety tests," he says.
The Volvo V40 is expected to arrive in Australia in 2013. The pedestrian airbag will be standard equipment. In the past, safety advocates have said that if the equipment were optional, buyers wouldn't be prepared to pay to protect pedestrians.
In addition to the pedestrian airbag, Volvo has tweaked its "City Safety" system, which now works at speeds up to 50km/h, while the lane keeping system can now steer the car into its lane if it starts to creep out.
Volvo will also add a park assist system that is designed to make parallel parking easier, similar to systems offered by Ford and Volkswagen.
Read more about the Volvo V40 here.
The V40 will be revealed at the Geneva motor show in March.