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Volvo Unveils New Technology to Avoid Cyclists

Friday, 8 Mar 2013 | 12:57 PM ET
Cyclists Fight Back
Cyclists are beginning to mount cameras on helmets and handlebars, and documenting motor vehicles who hit or run them off the road. NBC's Tom Costello reports.

After years of talk about the need for cars and trucks to do a better job of detecting and preventing accidents with bicyclists, Volvo has taken the first concrete step in that direction.

The company has unveiled new technology that will allow Volvo models to detect those riding bicycles and apply full braking before the car hits the cyclists. Volvo's Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection will be available in 2013 versions of the S60, XC90, XC70, and S80 models.

Cyclists/Cars in Dangerous Battle for the Road

Depending on where you live, you may have noticed that there is a new and potentially deadly feud simmering between bicyclists and those driving cars and trucks. They are increasingly skirmishing over space on the road and the rules of the road. Bicyclists routinely complain about cars cutting them off, not giving them enough room and generally making it treacherous to ride a bike on a busy street.

Many of those driving cars see it differently. They accuse cyclists of not following the rules of the road by blowing off stop signs or stop lights and sometimes taking up entire lanes on busy streets when the cyclists ride in a pack.

In my opinion, both sides have valid arguments. I've seen people acting like morons when driving by cyclists and I've seen cyclists behaving like idiots when it comes to sharing the road.

(Read More: Here's Why More People Drive Alone, Despite High Gas Prices)

One thing is clear: More bikes and cars are sharing the road. Since 2000 commuting by bike is up 47 percent in the U.S. According to the most recent data the number of accidents and deaths is far too high.

Cyclists/Cars in Dangerous Battle for the Road

Bicyclist injuries in 2010: 52,000
Bicyclist deaths in 2010: 618
Total Cost of Cyclist Injuries/Deaths Per Year: $4 Billion
Source: National Safety Council/Natl. Highway Safety Administration

New Tech to Avoid Accidents

It was only a matter of time until one of the automakers combined the advanced use of cameras and sensors to create a system for avoiding bicyclists.

(Read More: Car Buyers Taking Out Bigger Loans, Set New Record)

How does the Volvo system work? A radar in the car's grill and a camera pointing towards the front of the car from the interior rear view mirror are constantly monitoring what's in front of the Volvo. If a cyclist heading in the same direction as the car swerves out in front of the car and a collision is likely, the sensors alert the car's central control unit. Instantly a warning is sent to the driverand full brakes are automatically applied.


Volvo believes the Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection system will be popular in Europe where more people ride bikes, often on narrower roads. Still, the issue of cars and bicyclists colliding is a worldwide issue and will only grow as more cities encourage people to bike instead of drive. Already, cities like Portland, Oregon and Boulder, Colorado have a large and thriving cycling populations.

(Read More: From Wall Street to the Olympics: One Cyclist's Story)

Expect other automakers to follow Volvo's lead in this area. Many already have pedestrian detection sensors built into their cars and trucks. Now it's a matter of adapting that technology to alert drivers and automatically brake when a cyclist accident is imminent.

—By CNBC's Phil LeBeau; Follow him on Twitter @LeBeauCarNews

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com

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  • Phil LeBeau is a CNBC auto and airline industry reporter based in the Chicago bureau and editor of the Behind the Wheel section on CNBC.com.

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