Self-driving cars, autonomous cars, or robot cars, whatever you choose to call them not only promise to make riding in them safer, but those working on making them a reality say they will also have a side bonus of making motorcycling safer.
“It would mean a dramatic enhancement in safety for the motorbike,” said Karl Viktor Schaller, head of development at BMW Motorrad, to Bloomberg. “And it would guarantee a wider user group.”
When humans are no longer behind the steering wheel, it is believed that all things being equal fewer riders stand to die on the road.
Assuming this is the case, it opens the door for some people who have wanted a motorcycle but have been too frightened to buy one – though of course their chances of still crashing all by themselves remains the same.
And the numbers are enough to make one take pause: Motorcyclists account for less than one percent of vehicle miles traveled in the U.S., yet they suffered 14.2 percent of all traffic deaths in 2015.
Consider a left turn at an intersection, one of the more common scenarios where riders run afoul with inattentive drivers. This year, about 1,000 motorcycle riders in the U.S. will lose their lives to the left turns of others, according to crash statistics from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
And here lies what could be one of the autonomous vehicle’s greatest strengths.
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Self-driving cars will be able to “see” the motorcycle with sensors and radar and either alert the driver or actively prevent the vehicle from cutting off the bike.
But that’s just the beginning.
Eventually, motorcycles will have vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology and “talk” to all of the other vehicles on the road, constantly reminding them where they are, where they are heading, and at what speed.
“We can use that to build an electronic safety cage around a motorbike,” Schaller said.
Once aspiring bikers realize that the car next to him or her isn’t a threat, sales will climb in some places.
Xavier Mosquet, a senior partner at Boston Consulting Group, said the bike boost would be most pronounced in markets such as the U.S., where people ride for fun, and in China and India, where many choose motorbikes because they are relatively inexpensive transportation.
While riding in an autonomous car may be dull, riding a motorcycle will be, well like driving.
“We are not about going from A to B,” Schaller said. “Motorbikes are about going from A to A. Our business is pleasure.”
And so says the people who are trying to sell this technology, but how things ultimately pan out will remain to be seen.