Bring on the automated car. – By Nick Ienatsch . July 9, 2019
Riders, a new age of riding joy and true freedom is coming. My friend and YCRS co-owner Limore Shur makes a living on the edge of the future, pushing tech and media envelopes with his company Mod Op. His mind sees the world in a uniquely vibrant way, and it was Limore who called to say, “The future looks bright and safe for motorcycling. Our time to rule the road is coming!” He sees motorcyclists as F-18 jets flying through a sea of polite, in-line, law-abiding, sober, and logical Cessna 150 trainers. “The sooner cars become autonomous, the sooner our industry will soar,” Limore predicts.
I see Limore’s point because the more drivers I see, the more I love computers. The art of and passion for driving well has taken a back seat to communication, so why not remove the problem? Get the distractoids out of the driver’s seat and into the passenger seat where they can text and message and email and FaceTime to their hearts’ content.
In the late 1990s the motorcyclist’s life changed. Before the cellphone we could see and predict most of the issues that affected our safety. We’d spot the driver in a hurry, we’d see the driver searching for a street sign, we’d know the tailgating driver was going to flick a lane change—it was predictable, relatively logical, and most likely safer time for the aware rider.
But with cellphones in cars, our ability to predict issues is almost impossible. Sudden decreases in speed when a cellphone that we can’t hear rings or bleats. Sudden darts across lanes when a navigation voice that we can’t hear blurts out a direction change. We’re getting rear-ended at stops significantly more often (according to a Las Vegas Metro motor officer) because a texting driver has trouble picking out a stopped car, much less a stopped bike. This issue is exacerbated by the windshield-mounted cellphones and nav devices that can easily block a rider from the driver’s view. Have you seen the devices stuck to some windshields? Crazy, and dangerous for all riders.
Don’t want your kid to drive and text? Put them in a car with a manual transmission, roll-up windows, no cruise control…and remove the power-steering belt.
There’s a hassle factor too and we’ve all noticed it. Huge delays when the light turns green as texting drivers finally get their eyes up and realize traffic has moved off. Cars stopping far too early for a red light because the driver can’t wait to get stopped to send an emoji. Drivers dawdling in traffic with their attention on the cellphone in their hand, holding up lines of cars below the speed limit. Texting drivers relying on their radar-controlled cruise controls to keep pace with the car ahead of them while they communicate, meaning lines of distantly spaced cars driving one speed in the left lane of the freeway and not using the left lane for passing only.
Safety Spurs Growth?
How many non-riders have told you, “I’d love to ride but don’t trust other traffic”? How many of us have given up street riding for the track? Would we have a rebirth of riding enthusiasm if human-driver error was eliminated?
I truly fight against cynicism because it’s too easy to slip into a lifetime of it, but even my concerted sunny observance of drivers gets stormy very quickly. I understand the reservations non-riders have about riding a bike in traffic because the driving is abhorrent and inconsistent. Driving skills may or may not be any good these days, but skills are a distant second priority to focus. How well you stop and steer your car hardly matters when you are three seconds late in recognizing the future.
This safety factor is what Limore sees coming. Eliminating human error due to the distraction of in-car communication will bring a significant degree of predictability to the road—and that predictability is all riders are asking for. Our on-bike actions can be based on known and logical auto movements, pace, and habits. “Right now, it’s the sudden, last-moment, unexpected speed and direction changes; drivers’ lack of awareness of anything other than their cellphones that is hurting and killing us—or at least keeping us off our bikes,” Limore adds.
This country could take a big chunk out of the national debt just by fining the texters I’ve seen in the last 30 days.
The majority of drivers are distracted by talking or texting on a cellphone while driving; so let’s fix this with automated cars or a mandatory device that kills all cellphone signals emanating from or entering a car except calls to 911. Yeah, the latter is not going to happen; so let’s kick the driver out of the driver’s seat for our safety and this country’s travel efficiency.
Car Occupants Helped Too
One of the biggest issues in a modern car crash is a search of each driver’s phone records. If it can be proven the driver was calling or texting, life gets complicated and expensive for that driver. Many of us agree with that, we agree that the distracted driver should pay a price, but two of my driving friends have had to fight lawsuits over phone usage in an accident in which they had little or no fault. Disciplined thinkers will quit texting or calling while driving, but apparently, there aren’t many disciplined thinkers in the areas I ride.
Limore adds, “Insurance costs will be the thing that drives most people out of owning or driving. I expect it’ll be only the wealthy able to afford a traditional car, the cost of insurance will be astronomical compared to safe, predictable autonomous vehicles.”
My future-dreaming friend continues, “Uber and other rideshare companies will build their own autonomous fleets as well as hire private autonomous cars whose owners have downtime. Drive to work, let your intelligent car go off and Uber for extra cash, pick up your lunch, and then bring your family to you at the end of the day.
“Hotel rooms will pick you up at the airport and dock at the hotel. Autonomous driving Porta Pottis summoned by app so you get to your destinations while relieving yourself.”
Yes, the autonomous driver will have its own problems but here is the distinct difference: The computer will get better. America’s drivers will not. Ever. It seems most don’t care about driving; it’s just a means to an end. No plan, no focus, no caring, no enjoyment. If you don’t agree, look at the majority of cars on the road these days and you will see a general lack of driving enthusiasm in their design. They are transportation boxes of differing sizes equipped with automatic transmissions, power everything, radar cruise control, blind-spot warning lights, and lane-departure buzzers. The message the car designers are sending is: “You’re too busy to look over your shoulder before a lane change and shouldn’t have to bother staying in your lane by yourself.” We need to go one more step and eliminate the human distractoid as soon as possible because riders will be safer.
Another idea: Train American drivers better—but that’s dead in the water because when have you ever met someone who admits to being a bad driver? Everybody’s great; it’s the “other idiots out there.”
Let AI take over car driving, let the technicians add fail-safes and work out the faults like they have with electric starters, electronic ignition, fuel injection, and active suspension—just to name a few modern upgrades that skeptics decried when they were initially introduced.
Okay, I’m understating the potential danger of autonomous vehicles; who knows how weather, age, lack of maintenance, owner adjustments, direct sunlight, pitch darkness, and many other factors will affect all the electronics? We also need to worry about who programs the parameters these vehicles will perform within. Limore and I realize the challenges but are dreaming of a day when science increases motorcycle safety by getting the texters out from behind the steering wheel.
Passionate, enthusiast drivers with their focus on driving will be the only humans behind the wheel, recognizable because their eyes will be up and their moves will be logical and efficient. All the communicators will be allowed to pursue their cellphone joy while the computers guide their transportation boxes legally and, more importantly, logically—perhaps even reserving the left lane for passing only. What a concept!
Limore takes these ideas into every rider’s fantasy: “Two-wheelers will be the only non-automated vehicles on the road. The computers in the cars and trucks will stay in their lane, use their turn signals, drive the speed limit. Motorcycle passion will explode because the freedom of riding won’t be hindered by the poor driving habits of the general public.”
We, the free and the lucky, will adjust to this new landscape for another golden era of motorcycling.