Widespread autonomous vehicle use is inevitable. These vehicles are no longer imaginative ideas confined to sci-fi novels and futuristic movies. At an increasing pace, autonomous technology is being tested and used on public roadways in numerous American cities. In response to this technology, there has been more discussion in motorcycle rights circles relating to the impact that autonomous vehicles will have on motorcyclists. Technology can be good or bad. In the end, how a new technology is applied is arguably more important than the technology itself.
There are some expressing concern for the future based on the idea that motorcyclists will be pushed out of transportation through new laws and regulations. But there are also reasons to believe that autonomous vehicle technology could make motorcycling far safer in the long term. Autonomous vehicles could result in either scenario, depending on how that technology is applied. It is critical that motorcyclists remain part of the legislative discussion to help insure that the future of autonomous technology is guided in the right direction.
Possible Concerns for Motorcyclists
A simple Google search reveals that many motorcyclists have expressed concerns that potential safety issues between autonomous detection technology and motorcycles could push motorcyclists out of transportation’s future. 1
Organizations like the Motorcycle Riders Foundation (MRF), a national rights group focused on D.C. politics, want to insure that motorcyclists are represented in the regulatory and legal scheme that is accompanying the inevitable push towards autonomous vehicles.
In comments to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, the MRF recognizes the potential that these vehicles may offer in regards to improving road safety, but demands that, “any guidelines, procedures, or regulations promulgated, are considerate and inclusive of all road users, specifically motorcyclists.”
The MRF publicly states that, “the MRF is working to ensure that bikers across the nation not be overlooked… the MRF insists that it will remain vigilant in ensuring bikers have a seat at the table when it comes to automated vehicles.” 2
With over 10 million registered motorcyclists, motorcycling is an essential part of modern American freedom and not so easily dismissed. What if autonomous technology actually made motorcycling safer by eliminating automobile drivers from the equation? Would even more people purchase and register to ride a motorcycle if it were far safer?
Increased Safety Means Motorcycling Could Flourish
The largest cause of collisions between automobiles and motorcycles is the automobile driver. Left hand turns, texting, drunk driving, and other forms of distraction have created a major safety risk that legislators nationwide have attempted to remedy. It only makes sense that safety concerns, or perceptions of risk, prevent many people from buying and riding motorcycles.
According to Karl Viktor Schaller, head of development at BMW, with automated vehicles far fewer bikers will die on the road, which will not escape the notice of all those people who have been too scared to fulfill their dream of owning and riding a motorcycle. “It would mean a dramatic enhancement in safety for the motorbike,” Schaller said. “And it would guarantee a wider user group.” 3
Autonomous cars, theoretically, will not make common errors caused by distraction. Eventually, motorcycles will “talk” to all of the other vehicles on the road, constantly providing updates regarding location and speed. This information will be used to build an electronic safety cage around a motorcycle, argues BMW’s Schaller.
What does this mean for US motorcyclists? When the perception that motorcycling is inherently dangerous is reduced, sales will climb. According to Xavier Mosquet, a senior partner at Boston Consulting Group, the boost in motorcycling will be most noticeable in markets such as the U.S.,
where people ride for entertainment and pleasure. 4
Some Final Thoughts
Staying politically active as a community will be a critical component to maintaining a connection to the regulations that will dictate reality for motorcyclists in a new and autonomous world. Every Step moves us closer to critical mass as motorcyclists, a point at which the viable future of motorcycling becomes certain, even in the face of new and challenging technologies. It should be encouraging that the movement is cumulative. Every success motorcyclists achieve in the autonomous technology policy discussion builds upon itself. Autonomous automobile and motorcycle manufacturers both being represented in this discussion means that the
technology will advance with an ideology that encompasses motorcyclists.
Autonomous vehicle technology is inevitable and increasing at a rapid pace. As long as motorcycling community and manufacturers track the developments of this new industry, there is a greater chance that the technology will develop in such a way that motorcycling becomes safer and more popular.