Volvo Wants You to Stop From Texting While Driving by Monitoring You With an In-Car Camera [UPDATED]

Volvo is very committed to the idea of ending all fatalities in cars it builds, and it’s even willing to watch you like a hawk and snitch on you to make that happen. Volvo announced today it will employ in-car cameras to detect when a driver is drunk or distracted, and its cars will take specific actions when such a system is detected. I suspect you can also trigger the system by just driving like a loon, but I guess we’ll just have to see.

The system Volvo is proposing will be introduced on all “next-gen, SPA2-based vehicles,” referring to Volvo’s the second generation of the company’s modular platform, the first generation of which already underpin the company’s bigger cars like the S60 and XC90. The SPA2 cars will include internal cameras focused on the driver that will:

“...monitor for erratic driver behavior – such as a lack of steering input, closed or averted eyes, weaving across lanes – and assistance systems will intervene when necessary.”

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The proposed interventions include audiovisual warning signals, reducing the car’s speed, alerting the Volvo on Call assistance service, and finally actively taking control of the car to pull it over and park it safely as quickly as possible.

Volvo even made a handy little video of the system, showing how the car will save this distracted or, let’s be honest here, likely drunk grayscale woman from herself and her bad decisions:

It’s not the first driver-assistance system to use an in-car camera. Cadillac’s Super Cruise, for example, also employs a camera that watches the driver’s face and eyes to monitor for distracted driving.

Volvo’s camera system appears to be checking for a few key criteria, including eye motions, whether the eye is actually open or not (generally, open is the preferred option for driving), extreme steering or braking reaction times, if the car is weaving or driving erratically, if there’s no steering input at all, or if the driver is just slumped over and sloppily passed out on the dash.

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They’ve even made an overcomplicated chart for something we all know: the more drunk you are, the worse you’ll drive.

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There’s a lot of good ideas here, and, potentially, a system like this really could save lives, and that would include situations beyond intoxicated driving like fatigued driving or distracted driving.

There’s some real questions here, though, and so much of this depends on how well it actually works. David Kidd from the Highway Loss Data Institute brings up a question I’m sure we’re all thinking:

My only concern would be whether the information from different sensors can be used to reliably classify the driver’s state as impaired or not impaired, distracted or not distracted. You would want to be completely certain that the driver is in an impaired state before forcing the vehicle to slow down and safely park itself.

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Basically, how well will this work? Will it deliver a lot of annoying false positives if I have allergies and keep sneezing or am dancing in my seat because Radar Love came on? Will driving while being constantly watched and monitored be something I even want, just conceptually?

There’s also the tricky question of whether or not your car will narc on you. If the car does determine you’re likely impaired, after Volvo on Call is contacted, will law enforcement be contacted as well? While this could be a prudent course of action, why would I want to buy a car that would snitch on me?

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I’ve reached out to Volvo for comment on this, and will update when I get a response. Volvo says the system will appear in cars starting in the 2020s. So, if you want a Volvo but do a lot of weaving, strange blinking, and slump in your seat when you drive, you should buy your Volvo before then.

Updated: Wednesday, March 20, 2019, 1:30 p.m. ET: Volvo got back to me about calling the cops on you! Here’s what they said:

“We are talking about addressing behavior for the safety of our drivers, not being an extension of law enforcement.”

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So, there you go. Your car won’t get you into legal trouble.

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About the author

Jason Torchinsky

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus • Not-so-running: 1973 Reliant Scimitar, 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!)