Brushes with disaster

In August I started driving a Volvo XC60 with the latest generation of vehicle autonomy features. Since that time I have driven nearly 10,000 miles in the car, and the experience has been mostly positive. Early on there was one aberrant behavior where the vehicle, while running in its “Pilot Assist” mode, suddenly and inexplicably changed lanes and nearly caused a collision. I don’t know if the car lost its lane lock or it was attempting to swerve around a perceived but non-existent obstacle.

There was a second incident, also in Pilot Assist mode, when the vehicle (presumably) lost its lock on the car ahead and started accelerating. And on a few other occasions, the automatic collision braking system has kicked in when not needed.

Despite these hiccups, I have on the whole been mostly satisfied with both the vehicle and it’s built-in automation. What I miss the most is a way to interrogate the car’s computer systems to understand when and why the safety features engaged as well as view the video footage from each incident. This seems like an obvious and useful feature that I wish Volvo would include.

Today I was traveling down an open highway at close to the speed limit when a Prius going at least 30 mph slower suddenly changed lanes ahead of me. The other driver clearly had not looked before changing lanes or had not accurately judged the speed difference, because I had a very brief window to try to avoid a collision.

I slammed the brakes as soon as I saw what was happening, and narrowly avoided a crash.  The car automatically pre-tensioned my seatbelt, pulling me back, and was presumably ready to activate the airbag.  I believe it also assisted with automatic collision braking, although I’m not positive.  The burst of adrenaline kept my heart racing for several minutes afterwards, and I missed my freeway exit.

I wonder how quickly the car saw what was happening and reacted, and how many tenths of a second later I did.  I wish I could see that data and understand exactly what happened and when.  I feel that this sort of collision data, as well as aggregate statistics, would be very useful in studying road safety, improving automation, and formulating policy.  In the meantime, I’m happy to have come out of this incident unscathed, and I believe the advanced features of my car helped keep me safe.