Thinking about motorcycle safety in a structured way can be hard. In this post I present a simple framework, and how I believe it can be used to evaluate the safety value of technology.
This is part four of seven in a series of blog posts on motorcycles and technology. The first part can be found here.
Co-founder & CEO
At Aware Moto we’ve found that it makes sense to look at safety in three phases. The things that happen before and between rides, the things that happen while we’re riding, and the things that happen when things go wrong. Technology can actually help us in all of these phases.
Before and between rides, safety is about preparation. It’s about making sure the technical condition of the motorcycle is top notch, and that we as riders are prepared. If we can use technology to discover potential issues with our vehicles, that is absolutely something we should embrace. We shouldn’t go for long rides with the wrong tyre pressure, or with a non-functioning battery. We can also make sure we’ve got the trip as well planned out as possible. If conditions are dangerous, we should know.
While we ride, technology can potentially tell us about possible problems. Loss of tyre pressure, new engine vibrations, or other anomalies can indicate that we should stop and check our vehicle. If our concentration levels are dropping, technology can tell us that we’re not as safe as we think. With connected technology, we can be warned about dangers ahead, and we can tell other road users that we are there in case they didn’t see us.
But there is also a safety problem with a lot of the tech we’re adding to vehicles. If the technology provides too much information, it gets in the way and steals attention from what we should be focusing on. A study by ADAC showed that large touch screens in cars made drivers less safe. As motorcyclists we know that attention matters even more on two wheels, and we should reject technology that presents us with too much information, or requires us to unnecessarily interact with it.
Hitting the sweet spot here is hard. Inform me when I need it, but don’t disturb me when I don’t. I probably don’t need a HUD in my helmet, but a flashing light that tells me to stop and check something is probably good. Audio messages can be really useful here, as they don’t require the rider to shift focus away from the road.
The final phase is what is most obvious. If something goes wrong, technology should be there to help us. Rider aid systems like ABS and traction control can actually help us, but any system that upsets the finely tuned balance on a two-wheeler can be dangerous. Cars can implement automated emergency braking safely, on a motorcycle it would inevitably lead to disaster. I think we’re far away from systems that can safely do more than help us keep traction to avoid an accident, while still not frustrating our efforts to avoid it using our skills.
I think most of us agree that if we’re in an accident, anything that can help us is good. We’re wearing personal protection equipment for those cases, even if most rides don’t end up in crashes. Similarly, we should allow technology to help us – just in case. Accident alert systems are great, and if an ambulance can be called even if the rider is unconscious, that will save lives. However, we should be vigilant that we don’t have systems that call emergency services when it is not necessary.
And maybe we can get to the point where a motorcycle crash alerts other riders in the same area? We’re all part of the siblinghood of motorcyclists, and I am sure we would all rush to an accident to provide help if we could. For me, helping us help each other is perhaps the most important thing technology could provide.