Will Autonomous Car Tech Help Drivers See Motorcyclists On The Road?

When drivers don't see us, it's good that sometimes their cars can

can you see me now illustration
Can you see me now?Illustration by Ryan Inzana

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 54 percent of fatal motorcycle accidents involve collisions with other vehicles—which most of the time are at fault. Perhaps that’s because traditionally, avoiding motorcyclists has been done old-school, requiring drivers to take care and watch out—a seeming rarity on today’s roads. Fortunately, though, drivers now have help available, as carmakers are beginning to embed automated accident-avoidance technology into their vehicles.

Typically, cameras and sensors connect with ECUs, annunciators, and actuators to automatically scan for collision threats, warn the driver, and even initiate steering or braking actions to avert unwanted contact…such as with you and your Fat Boy. This is welcome progress for motorcyclists because with our sobering 29-times greater fatality risk compared to car drivers, we need every advantage.

Disappointingly, the technology is rolling out gradually, and of course the overwhelming majority of vehicles on the road don’t have it. Also of concern, few companies specifically claim their technology identifies motorcycles, though several readily state it can identify pedestrians, bicyclists, and even nocturnal animals (think moose, not mole sized). This brings up a question: Are motorcyclists more or less at risk than a cyclist or a deer? I’d argue equal, at the very least.

So while the autonomous car technologies sort themselves out, here are some of the more laudable advancements that may already be sharing the road around you.

NIGHT VISION: Using infrared beams and cameras, cars from Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo highlight pedestrians, cyclists, and/or animals real time on the instrument panel at night. Since bicyclists and motorcyclists can have similar shapes, the technology may also detect motorcyclists.

AUTOMATIC EMERGENCY BRAKING: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) makes autonomous braking mandatory for top-rated vehicles. Using cameras and radar, such systems scan for dangerous closing rates, such as a vehicle (maybe you!) up ahead, then automatically apply the brakes.

BLIND-SPOT WARNING: Ever been pushed out of your freeway lane by Mr. Magoo? Blind-spot warning systems inform feeble drivers of vehicles (including motorcycles) in their blind spot, using visible and/or audible alerts. Lane-watch systems further display an image of the hidden right-hand lane on-screen.

CHOOSE YOUR TRAFFIC: Technology that forewarns drivers of vulnerable and hard-to-see road users (e.g., bikers) is already here. But as rollout is gradual and generally on premium products, to stay safe, perhaps strive to blend with new, high-end cars—not the old beaters.

How about another Ride Smart tip to be more safer?