What Do Driverless Cars Mean for Motorcyclists?

Self-driving cars should lessen the risk of accidents

Indian Springfield
What do driverless cars mean for motorcyclists?Jon Mcdevitt

Some day soon texting while driving will be a crime of the past. That’s not because people will finally stop feeling the need for incessant social confirmation; it’s because humans will soon no longer be allowed to drive. Robo-cars are fast headed out onto our highways.

The idea behind this developing technology is that the number-one cause of traffic accidents is humans. Plus, traffic casualties are to accidental deaths what heart disease and cancer are to dying “naturally.” Statistically, the chance of dying by any other means is basically insignificant. So the plan is to rid highways of the scourge of carnage by eliminating the source of the scourge: people. We are destined to be passengers of our future. I’m betting this news is hitting you like it hit me: a major WTF moment. We all have to wonder what this might mean for motorcycles. It’s pretty certain that none of us are willing to ride bitch to C-3PO.

Motorcycles, obviously, have maintained the importance of the ride over the arriving.

While riding a motorcycle I have personally experienced an oncoming car enter my lane and head straight for me, it having a texting “passenger” sitting in the driver’s seat. Since some people sitting behind steering wheels aren’t actually looking out the windshield, there’s fair argument for self-driving cars over no-one-is-actually-driving-it cars. This makes me tempted to point at cars and say, “Ha, ha on you.” But what it infers concerns me. Where does this leave us people of the motorcycle? We do not want self-driving motorcycles, do we? For a biker, the concept of not being in control of the vehicle we’re riding is incomprehensible. It’s like being shown a movie of a lake if you desire to go swimming; there’s still a lake involved, somewhat, but you’re not allowed to actually touch it. For us bikers, of course, the whole point of going for a ride is to be going for a ride. The freedom, the autonomy, the personal expression of self with hands on the handlebars, all contribute to defining the entire point of the experience we cherish.


What the heck was that?

self driving cars
Google self driving carHuffington Post

That was a Google self-drive car running into a bus in Mountain View, California. Well, that might be a bit of a setback, even though the car was only going 2 mph. Ironically, I verified these details by Googling the crash.

Traffic deaths peaked in 1972, back when bar hopping was a nearly legal outdoor sport and the drinking age in many states, such as New York where I lived, was 18 years old. A ticket for driving drunk back then cost a driver about $175 and three license points—as long as no one had died—and the police officer would then tell you to try to stay in your lane as he waved you off to drive your drunk self home. Although I’m generally a bit libertine in my views of penal law, I have to say that the serious offense that DUI has become is a pretty good idea.

Computers never ever drive drunk. Or text while driving. They don’t get distracted by an eagle taking flight from the road’s shoulder with a snake in its talons. Computers also don’t get distracted by the odor of a kid’s stinky feet up on the back of the driver’s seat, contributing to a dad losing control of the family station wagon and driving into a cinder-block chicken coop on Rt. 79 just south of Whitney Point, New York. My feet don’t stink; they were those of one of my brothers.

From what mainstream media is reporting, within just a few years self-driving cars will be a normal sight on the highway. Follow that with a transition to everyone driving (riding in) self-driving cars. So, again, what does this mean for us?

Obviously bikers have no problem and need no solution. Motorcycling, statistically speaking, is 17 percent more dangerous than driving a car, but I’m assuming that you, like me, embrace this risk. Plus, a fair portion of the danger we face is, of course, cars being “driven” by humans. So we win as long as the robotic AI drivers are only in cars and our bikes are left alone to our own autonomous skills and decision making, as good or as bad as they might be.

All right, I’m fine with the ABS and three-mode traction control, but that’s it.

Way back when motorcycles first hit the highway and airplanes first took to the skies, there was no such thing as licensing. If you wanted to ride a bike or fly a plane, you bought or stole one and motored away. The idea that machines were meant to deliver you to a particular place overran the idea that the going is more important than the getting there. But motorcycles, obviously, have maintained the importance of the ride over the arriving. As we all know, the difference between cars and motorcycles is far more than just physics.

I’m not mentioning any of this to fearmonger among bikers but instead to point out some facts of motoring’s future. Motoring down the highway is going to fast change drastically from what it was; it might be better or it might be worse.

Wait, I forgot, I also like EFI. And on some new bikes the optional smartphone interface for systems display is also neat. But that’s it. I don’t want anything electronic more than that.

Well, ride by wire is also pretty cool.