Is this the end of SMIDSY? What driverless cars mean for motorcyclists

Until recently, driverless cars were the stuff of science-fiction movies. But many experts predict they could be the norm on our roads within the next twenty years. So what does this mean for motorcyclists?

While many motorcyclists consider driverless cars a threat to their autonomy on the road, it is unlikely that such technology will mean the end for motorcycle riders or their safety.

The end of SMIDSY

What we can expect is an unprecedented era of safety for motorcyclists. Cars driven by humans are at fault in up to 70% of motorcycle crashes with other vehicles. But driverless cars don’t get drunk, tired, exercise road rage or get distracted by Facebook or other social media. They use sophisticated sensors to detect surrounding vehicles, road markings and other road users, including motorcyclists.

The car’s computer analyses the sensor data, and in a split second, can apply the steering, acceleration and brakes to avoid a crash. These sophisticated sensors see far more, and respond a lot more quickly than a human is capable of.

Imagine riding to work, lane filtering between cars that act uniformly, and predictably, know exactly where your bike is (no matter how highly visible your clothing is) and will never pull out in front of you. The guilty driver’s utterance of “sorry mate I didn’t see you” might become a phrase of the past.

Driverless motorcycles?

Motorcyclists are also likely to be able to take advantage of driverless technology. By tapping into driverless cars’ sensor technology, and using tools such as dashboard displays and warning sounds, a rider can be alerted to hazards such as loose gravel around an upcoming curve, or a pedestrian about to step on to the road.

Beyond this, Honda and Yamaha are already working on ‘connected motorcycles’ that would wirelessly “talk” to cars, other bikes and road infrastructure, maximising traffic flow and avoiding collisions. Riders will also be able to breathe easier knowing that the handlebar won’t be taken over by a robot just yet, with Yamaha’s Chief Executive Hiroyuki Yanagi recently assuring riders that the current focus is on using technology to assist the rider, not on taking the riding task away.

Robots versus riders

This technology does, however, bring risks to motorcyclists. Car manufacturers won’t necessarily have motorcyclists at the forefront of their minds in the design and rollout of driverless car technology. One of the key issues will be how driverless cars understand and respond to rider behaviour.

Human drivers often read riders’ body language and hand signals when making decisions on the road. Conversely, riders are used to predicting human driver behaviour such as suddenly braking when a light turns from orange to red. It may be that riders need the opportunity for exposure to driverless cars in safe environments to familiarise themselves with their behaviour, before they are introduced on our roads.

Programming to kill

One of the hardest issues to grapple with about driverless cars is how they will be programmed in the event of an unavoidable accident. Imagine a driverless car is faced with a scenario where it has only two options: don’t swerve and kill a motorcyclist, or swerve into a wall and kill the human occupant.

What should the car be programmed to do? Or what if a car is faced with two motorcyclists, one wearing a helmet and one who is not, how will it choose which one to swerve into? Should the car hit the person with a helmet because the injury risk might be less, even though this means penalising the rider who took extra precautions? There are no simple answers to these questions and manufacturers will have to think carefully about how their cars are programmed to respond in such situations.

But driverless cars will be on the road before we know it. Motorcyclists stand to benefit from the increased safety they are likely to bring, but will need to ensure their voice is heard amongst the driverless din.

TOPIC: Smidsy
RELATED LEGAL SERVICES: Road accident injuries

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Katie Minogue

Maurice Blackburn Traralgon
Katie Minogue is a Senior Associate in Maurice Blackburn’s Victoria road and work accident injuries compensation practices. She leads our Traralgon office and helps people in the Gippsland area with their TAC and WorkCover claims. Katie joined Maurice Blackburn in 2015 after spending several years at another Melbourne law firm. She holds a Bachelor of Laws and a Bachelor of Arts. Communicating in a down-to-earth way with people from diverse backgrounds is one of Katie’s strengths, along with a highly compassionate approach to helping vulnerable people who need help to secure compensation after trauma.   “One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is the knowledge that my hard work and tenacious advocacy have led to an outcome that has made my client’s life a little bit easier during one of the most difficult periods they will go through,” says Katie. “Getting good outcomes, such as lump sums or extra physio sessions can make all the difference to people.” Katie has volunteered with a number of organisations in the past, including: South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault Victorian Aboriginal Legal Centre, and the Consumer Action Resource Centre. In her spare time Katie, is a keen runner and qualified group fitness instructor. Accreditations & memberships Law Institute of Victoria member LIV Transport Accident Committee member Australian Lawyers Alliance member Maurice Blackburn Sustainability Committee member Maurice Blackburn Women’s Network member ...

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