Swedish crash tech tweaked to take on kangaroos

Can Volvo create a safety system that reduces a potential danger that causes thousands of night-driving accidents in Australia?


WILPENA Pound, a fantastic natural rocky enclave on the fringes of the Australian Outback, is about four hours’ inland from Adelaide and almost all the drive is through the countryside; initially scrubby waste and progressively into farmland and South Australia’s acclaimed vineyards.

It seemed a brilliant run; a chance to discover something of the ‘real’ Australia; the one beyond the big cities I knew far too well. But our convoy leader was worried.

It was late afternoon; his issue was the wildlife. Native animals I ached to see were the last things he wanted to spot from the Ford Range utilities we were ferrying back from a big media event. This was the new model, yet to go on sale so still officially under wraps and now needed urgently for promotional duties. The idea of one gaining attention through sporting a 90kg marsupial as a bonnet mascot or going on display with a Roo-sized dent didn’t bear thinking about.

So when we headed off, it was running in a tight convoy with the lead driver vehicle’s occupants on the lookout for any locals on the move; the further we went, the less light, the more anxious our guide.

Dawn, dusk and night is when wildlife generally – and kangaroos in particular – are most active. And the animal that adorns every Aussie label – and, most famously, serves as the national airline’s logo – is not to be taken lightly. Kangaroos present a driving risk danger blamed by one local insurer for up to 100,000 road accidents annually and damage claims of close to $200 million.

Actually, our luck held on that occasion; we saw lots of local fauna, but nothing bounded, crawled or slithered onto the road. But, as the darkness closed, I definitely became aware that eyes were watching from the roadside.

Funnily, my closest encounter with a Roo while driving – one that left me shaken – was at a time experts rate as the safest to be out at the wheel: It was early one afternoon several years back when the bounding furry blur appeared out of nowhere.

I and a colleague were driving along quietly outside a big town within an hour’s drive of Melbourne. We’d left Holden’s media lunch to photograph their new car. A gravel road just off the main highway looked ideal; the berm was covered in thick grass, but no brushes or trees to speak of, and beyond the wire fences parallel to the road were well-grazed sheep paddocks.

Amazing, in hindsight, that such a big animal could hide itself in so little cover. Neither of us had any clue it was laying in the ankle-high grass until it sprung into frightened action just as we dawdled past. I remember a massive grey shape leaping over the bonnet with millimetres to spare. Here and gone