Automated driving technology’s next target: motorcycles

Everyone has heard the news regarding the automation of passenger vehicles, delivery vehicles and even large trucks to make them less prone to driver error. These so-called “driverless” vehicles (somewhat of a misnomer, since a driver can still operate the vehicle when it isn’t in automated mode) are being piloted in cities across the country by such big names as Uber, Tesla and Google/Alphabet.

We’ve even discussed in prior posts the potential impact that successfully automated vehicles might have on the accident rate across the country. The majority – some estimates say as high as 97 percent – of all car and truck accidents involve some measure of human error. Taking that out of the equation will hopefully make our roads much safer.

Now some of the same technologies currently in the works for passenger and delivery vehicles are being tweaked for use on another vehicle plagued by a high accident rate: motorcycles. Motorcycle operators and passengers are highly vulnerable, especially when collisions occur between them and stationary objects, cars or trucks. Motorcyclists are relatively unprotected, and their bodies take much of the impact when accidents occur. Even with helmets and protective safety gear, results can be devastating.

Startup companies, and more established part/component manufacturers alike, are taking up the challenging mantle of making motorcycles safer without sacrificing the reasons that people ride in the first place: personal choice, freedom and feeling the elements. For example, such advancements as automated crash avoidance and adaptive cruise control systems would slow or speed up the bike to help avoid accidents. Front and rear (360°) camera systems can give riders a real-time sense of what is happening around them.

This technology sounds promising but is still in its infancy. That means it isn’t yet available to help motorcyclists avoid injury-causing or even fatal crashes. If you are a rider, you need to proactively take steps to help keep yourself safe in the meantime. These include:

  • Never climbing on your bike while intoxicated – if you have been drinking, grab a ride with a friend, call a taxi, spend the night at a hotel or find some other way home.
  • Wearing properly rated and fitted safety gear – this includes a well-fitting helmet, goggles (or a face shield), a leather or padded jacket, enclosed shoes, and chaps or long pants. These will protect you from friction burns (road rash) in the event of a crash and will cushion the impact if you strike the road surface.
  • Not biking while distracted – stay off your phone, don’t spend too much time looking at the scenery, and don’t be tempted to text or email. Taking your hands off the handlebars or looking down for even a moment can result in a crash.
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