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Volvo is limiting its cars to a top speed of 112 mph

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The company that wants to be synonymous with safety wants us all to slow down a little

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Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

Volvo announced on Monday that it will be limiting the top speed on all of its vehicles to 180 km/h (112 mph) in a bid to reduce traffic fatalities. The new speed limit will be implemented on all model year 2021 cars, the company said.

Volvo is framing the new policy as a key component in its Vision 2020 goal, in which no one is killed or seriously injured in a Volvo vehicle by 2020. Over the years, the company built its reputation on safety and quirky designs, and today’s announcement is meant to underline that. Apart from limiting top speeds, Volvo is also exploring how a combination of speed control and geofencing technology could automatically limit speeds of its vehicles around schools and hospitals in the future.

Volvo’s new speed limit is still significantly above what is legally allowed in most countries. Even in Germany, where speed junkies flock to the famously unrestricted Autobahn highway network, policymakers are weighing a speed limit of 130 km/h to more effectively reduce transportation-related environmental damage.

In fact, most luxury automakers limit their high-performing models to 155 mph, thanks to a “gentleman’s agreement” between Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and BMW a number of years ago to reduce the number of fatalities on the Autobahn.

It’s unclear how capping the top speed could affect Volvo’s sales — speed freaks tend to prefer other brands — but the company is implementing it with few exceptions. In an email to The Verge, a spokesperson said the speed cap will not be possible to remove. “It can be removed only in special cases where there is a clear purpose, such as for police cars,” the spokesperson said.

Volvo’s new 112 mph limit will not apply to the company’s new electric performance sub-brand, Polestar, a spokesperson confirmed. The new Polestar 2’s all-wheel drive power is supposed to help the car get from 0 to 60 miles per hour in under five seconds.

Limiting the top speed of vehicles is sure to appeal to some safety advocates who have been sounding the alarm about rising traffic fatalities. A new report by the Governors Highway Safety Association determined that about 6,227 pedestrians were killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2018 — a 4 percent increase over 2017 and the highest mortality rate since 1990.

Much of the problem stems from consumers’ ongoing love affair with trucks and SUVs. America’s favorite motor vehicle type is also its most deadly. The number of pedestrians killed in crashes involving SUVs has skyrocketed by 81 percent in the last decade, according to a report released last year by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

This is mostly because of the way SUVs are designed: larger bodies and higher carriages mean pedestrians are more likely to suffer deadly blows to the torso, and higher clearances mean victims are more likely to get trapped underneath a speeding SUV instead of pushed onto the hood or bounced off to the side. Speed is also a factor since SUVs have more horsepower than a typical sedan. A recent investigation by USA Today and the Detroit Free Press found that the growing popularity of SUVs accounts for the alarming rise in pedestrian deaths.

Volvo notes that the other two problems are intoxication and distraction. The company expects to present its plans for tackling these issues at a special safety event in Sweden on March 20th.

Updated, March 4th 12:28PM ET, to include comment from a Polestar spokesperson.