Car maker Volvo, which already has a stellar reputation for ensuring the safety of those inside its vehicles, has revealed that it’s also been working on how to ensure the safety of anyone on the outside who finds themselves becoming acquainted with one of its cars in unexpected circumstances (ie. at speed).

The Swedish car maker has come up with the world’s first external airbag and unveiled its new safety system at the Geneva Motor Show in Switzerland this week.

The airbag activates when sensors on the car detect an imminent collision with a pedestrian. Upon activation, the hood, under which the airbag is located, lifts slightly, allowing the airbag to inflate in a U-shape at the base of the windshield. While the shape of the airbag still enables the driver to see ahead, its position should serve to protect the pedestrian from serious head and neck injuries.

Volvo says that 12 percent of all road accident deaths in the US are pedestrian related. If other car manufacturers incorporate the same or a similar design to Volvo’s, it’s hoped a radical drop in the number of such fatalities can be achieved.

The first vehicle to incorporate the new airbag design will be Volvo’s new V40 hatchback, also unveiled in Geneva this week. To lessen the chances of the airbag being deployed, the car maker has also included in the V40 its pedestrian detection system which, if a pedestrian steps in front of the vehicle, will cause the car’s brakes to apply automatically if the driver fails to act first.

Volvo’s Vision 2020 program pledges that by 2020 “nobody shall be seriously injured or killed in a new Volvo.” Its new external airbag should certainly go some way to helping achieve this goal.

[Source: Mashable / KY3]