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Motorcycle safety and autonomous vehicles

When a car and a motorcycle collide, the fault often lies with the driver of the automobile. The typical excuse from the driver is that he or she never saw the motorcycle. In other words, driver error is the most likely cause of crashes involving cars and motorcycles. Given that, should motorcyclists be enthusiastic about the possibility of self-driving cars?

The end of motorcycling?

Many motorcycle enthusiasts are justifiably concerned about autonomous vehicle technology. They wonder if the government will push to remove the human element from American roads entirely. Improved driverless cars could be the precursor to an outright ban on motorcycles on public roads. That’s an alarming prospect, even if it is likely a problem for the distant future. 

The obvious benefits

Proponents of the technology point to the immediate safety benefits of having fewer inattentive drivers cutting them off in traffic or turning in front of them. Autonomous vehicles will use turn signals and stay within their lanes. Driverless cars are incapable of road rage or passive aggressive moves to hinder a motorcyclist’s progress. Autonomous vehicles will see motorcycles, or they won’t be allowed on the roads. After all, even if motorcycles were banned, autonomous vehicles would have to account for bicyclists and pedestrians.

The growth of motorcycle popularity

There is the tantalizing possibility that driverless technology will actually increase the popularity of motorcycles nationwide. People who are reluctant to ride now may simply be nervous about the huge number of distracted, tired and drunk drivers they see on the roads every day. If cars were removed as a threat, these people might be more willing to ride. Some drivers might even switch to motorcycles because they miss the “feel” of driving when autonomous vehicles become more common.

Autonomous motorcycles

In the U.S., the idea of an autonomous motorcycle might seem ridiculous. Many riders choose motorcycles for the fun and freedom it offers. Riding enthusiasts may reject any attempt to cede control to a computer. On the other hand, motorcycles may benefit from a limited form of automation. Bikes that can autobrake to avoid collisions or warn riders of unseen curves approaching might gain popularity.

Driverless cars are unlikely to be a common sight anytime soon. The legal hurdles alone are likely to keep autonomous vehicles from gaining a significant market share in the next 10 years. When they do come, however, they have the potential to make motorcycling a much safer and, potentially, more popular way to get around.

Source: The Detroit News, “Self-driving cars will improve motorcycle safety,” by Kyle Stock, 11 October 2016