It's the most common traffic accident.
You're driving slowly in traffic, or puttering along in a mixer lane near a freeway. Your attention is distracted for a split second. Bam! You've rear-ended the idiot in front of you who slammed on his brakes for no good reason.
You've got lots of company, but no consolation because you have to pay the deductible.
Kim Hazelbaker of the Highway Loss Data Institute in Arlington, Va., says nearly 52 percent of collisions result in $2,500 or less in damages. That's based on information in databases that contain records of 80 percent of the nation's insured vehicles. Low-speed bumper tests, he said, show that those damage losses happen at 5 to 6 mph.
Volvo's 2010 XC60 crossover utility vehicle has it covered, and not with insurance.
It's called City Safety, and it's the latest in a line of high-tech corrections for driver errors. Unlike some of the other technologies, City Safety not only works, it's cheap, adding only $100 to $150 or so to the price of a vehicle.
It works at speeds of up to about 18 mph. Using an infrared laser sensor mounted near the rearview mirror, it monitors vehicles and other objects directly in the path of the XC60. It likely will become available on other vehicles as well as the technology spreads.
City Safety slams on the brakes if a crash is imminent between 2 and 9 mph, avoiding a collision. If the speed is 9 to 18 mph, it will mitigate the force of the collision, perhaps avoiding injury and lowering damage costs.
It's uncanny. During demonstrations, Volvo set up big plastic balloons and soft padded posts. None got banged unless the vehicle was going too fast. But most testers were too chicken to trust it against another vehicle.
The XC60 is Volvo's first compact to midsize crossover utility vehicle and the first in the world to offer City Safety as part of the standard equipment. All-wheel drive, a 281-horsepower turbocharged six-cylinder engine and a six-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually are part of the basic package.
As a premium crossover starting at $38,025, the XC60 also comes with leather upholstery, a motorized glass sunroof, 18-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth capability and HD as well as satellite radio. With options that included a navigation system, adaptive cruise control and a blind-spot warning feature — unnecessary if you adjust the mirrors correctly — the tested XC60 had a suggested sticker price of $44,475.
It competes against the Mercedes-Benz GLK, BMW X3, Audi Q5, Lexus RX350, Infiniti EX, Lincoln MKX and the new Cadillac SRX. All are five-passenger car-based wagons with an up-high seating position and decent cargo-carrying capability.
The XC60 also can do light-duty hauling and off-road rambling. For the latter, it features hill descent control.
The look is one of luxury. Outside, the XC60 has flowing lines in a tidy package. Inside, the driver is cosseted in Volvo's traditionally comfortable and supportive seats, leather-covered. The ride is comfortable and the cabin quiet.
A few downsides included a confusing array of buttons, sun visors that did not slide on their support rods to block sunlight from the side, a mesh shade that only partly blocked bright light through the glass sunroof, and rear seatbacks that did not recline.
But the XC60 is no slouch on performance. Volvo test figures place the zero to 60 mph acceleration time at slightly more than seven seconds, with a top speed of 130 mph. Handling is stable on curving roads and the XC60 tracks cleanly on straight highways.