Wednesday 17 June 2015

The Volvo Safety Jacket: the way forward for cycle safety?

An interesting sidebar in ethical design is coming out of Sweden, inspired by car manufacturer Volvo. They've sponsored a competition with the London School Of Fashion to design futuristic clothing, taking cues from the new XC90. One of the winning entres might just save lives.

It's a jacket for cyclists that includes some innovative safety features. In three strands--Commuter, Competitive and Weekender--the students have created clothes that incorporate reflective fibres and piping, left and right turning indicators and even group tracking to allow a peleton wearing the clothes to communicate with each other.
There's a lot of thought in these new jackets, and Volvo certainly seem to be trying to do the right thing by cyclists in showcasing these new designs. It's not even their first foray into the field. The company recently launched a product called Life Paint, a reflective spray which allows cyclists to easily make their clothing and bikes visible.
But there are problems with Volvo's move towards cycle safety. For one thing, Life Paint is non-permanent, lasting one week between applications. With no proper release date as yet (so far it's had a limited roll-out as a freebie in a selected few bike shops, making it nearly impossible to get hold of) there's no way of knowing if it's anything more than a marketing ploy.
Cyclist groups remain unconvinced by Volvo's strategy, saying it's a move by a car manufacturer to shift the focus on road safety firmly onto the cyclist. The awful truth is that almost all bike-related fatalities in London this year have been through collisions with HGVs in broad daylight--conditions in which Volvo's innovations would have been no use whatsoever. Mikael Colville-Anderson of Copenhagenize Design points out the double-standards at play:
"Where are the Volvos of the world promoting motorist helmets, reflective paint on cars, airbags on the outside of cars that the Dutch have been working on since 2007 and yes, health warnings on cars, etc?"
This is not to downplay the achievements of the students, or to claim that cyclists shouldn't take their fair share of responsibility for staying safe on the road. It's nice to see cycling clothes that don't make you look like a day-glo bubblehead. But, with no indication of the Volvo Safety Jacket being anything other than a prototype, and with no details on pricing, it's no surprise that many commentators think that Volvo are steering cyclists into a dead end.

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