New Volvos, even high-end models, will be electronically limited to a top speed of 112 mph, the company announced this week. It won't take its cars any longer than usual to reach that limit, though, as nothing's changing regarding power or torque. The Swedish carmaker has been talking about imposing the limit since last year, and a decade ago it said that by this year it wanted to ensure no one would be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo. Achieving that vision was always going to require substantial changes.
Despite Volvo’s compelling arguments that at over 100 miles an hour it’s very hard for even the most advanced safety features like airbags and crumple zones to prevent serious injury, there are naturally those who’ve dusted off their pitchforks and lambasted the company. They argue car companies have no right to place artificial restrictions on their vehicles. They are, of course, wrong.
Limits exist in various forms already — Speed limits exist in most countries precisely because there’s a direct correlation between speed and the severity of injuries from accidents. Despite limits and penalties, though, people continue to speed. Because people can’t be trusted to obey the rules. Most people, that is.
Critics are quick to point to the German autobahns, highways which have large stretches with no speed limits and a low fatality rate. But that's cherry-picking. First, getting a driver's license in Germany is a far more rigorous, protracted, and costly process than in most other nations. Second, Germans have a higher-than-average-propensity for adhering to rules. And third, even Germany is considering imposing speed limits for similar reasons to Volvo's.
Meanwhile, in another example, in order to comply with local regulations, drone maker DJI imposes no-fly zones via location tracking in some countries. If you try to fly a DJI drone near JFK International Airport, for instance, it simply won’t take off. Is this a minor inconvenience sometimes? Sure. Do we think DJI should take off all limits and let people potentially ground aircraft and inconvenience hundreds of thousands of passengers? We don't.
Don’t like it? Shop elsewhere — If Volvo limiting your ability to do a potentially fatal speed feels like a trampling of your right to make bad decisions there’s an easy workaround: Don’t buy a Volvo. Also, if you’re buying a Volvo in order to participate in illegal drag racing while city streets are quiet due to the coronavirus, can we suggest you consider a muscle car instead? You don't buy a Volvo for its 0-60 mph time, you buy it precisely because in the event of an accident it's one of the safest cars you or your family can be in.
Alternatively, if you absolutely can’t resist the charms of the Scandanavian automaker but want to be able to go faster than 112 mph, buy a Polestar. The company’s all-electric performance brand is coming to the U.S. this year and won’t be subject to the same speed limiting. It also makes extremely good-looking cars.
A second key with more limits — In addition to the new mandatory limiter, new Volvos will also include a second key that can be set to enact additional limitations, like even lower top speed. Called the "Care Key," Volvo envisions this being useful when you’re lending the car to your teenager, or another inexperienced or young driver. It's not dissimilar to valet mode on Teslas that limits acceleration and top speed, locks the frunk and glove compartment, and restricts access to personal information.
Announcing the move, Volvo adds that “[a]part from speeding, intoxication and distraction are two other primary areas of concern for traffic safety and that constitute the remaining gap towards Volvo Cars’ vision of a future with zero traffic fatalities and serious injuries. It is taking action to address all three elements of human behavior in its safety work, with more features to be introduced in future cars.”
Could this mean a built-in breathalyzer in the next XC90? If it reduces instances of drunk driving, we’re all for it. Sure, there will always be those who argue that speed doesn't kill, people do. But these are likely the same people who think you should be able to buy automatic weapons at a Walmart. So you'll have to forgive up if we don't take their teeth-gnashing to heart.