As California Legalizes Self-Driving Cars, Are Motorcycling’s Days Numbered?

09/26/2012 @ 7:03 pm, by Jensen Beeler38 COMMENTS

As California Legalizes Self Driving Cars, Are Motorcyclings Days Numbered? John Adams 635x798

The movement of transportation as a commodity continues, as California has become the second state to legalize the use of automated cars on its roadways (Nevada was first).

Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law today SB 1298, which specifically legalizes the use of autonomous vehicles, as long as a licensed and bonded operator is in the vehicle’s driver seat.

Essentially legitimizing what was a legal grey-area, what the bill does does explicitly is green-light more autonomous vehicle projects in the Golden State.

With applications from the trucking industry to the car-sharing, and everything in-between, the advent of autonomous four-wheelers signals an interesting, yet scary, future for motorcyclists.

According to former Ford/Chrysler/GM-man Bob Lutz, self-driving cars could be the norm in as few as 20 years — an idea the could materially change the driving landscape as we know it.

As autonomous vehicles become increasing the status quo on the road, user-guided vehicles like motorcycles will become greater outliers, and could face a tyranny of the majority.

The immediate concern of course is that self-driving vehicles may not be able to adapt and predict to every situation that a motorcycle could present the vehicle on the roadway (motorcyclists all know that human-driven cars have a hard enough time with this reality as it is). However, the long-term concern should be focused on the increasing marginalization of motorcycles in the daily transportation discourse.

Let’s face it, here in the United States, motorcyclists operate a two-wheeled vehicle in very much a four-wheeled vehicle world — just ask anyone that has gone through a motorcycle-only checkpoint, received some extra scrutiny from Johnny Law, or just simply gotten a dirty look from an SUV-clad soccer mom. We ride motorcycles to separate ourselves from the cage drivers that surround us, but that is a concept that cuts both ways, unfortunately.

This is an issue I have written about a few times now, but as self-driving vehicles become more prevalent, and eventually enter into the societal norm, the landscape of how our roads and highways work will significantly change over the coming decades.

A form of transportation centered-around the idea of freedom and personal expression here in the United States, how will motorcycling adjust to this change in how we operate vehicles, or better yet, what are our parental figures, the AMA and MIC, doing to ensure that a future exists for motorcyclists in an autonomous vehicle world? I have yet to hear a response to that question.

Source: CNN & Yahoo Finance

Comment:

  1. Coreyvwc says:

    As a Californian and a motorcyclist, I must honestly admit that this scares me. That is saying a lot considering that there really is not much at all that scares me while aboard my little two wheeled sanctuary. Thanks for putting the word out on this.

  2. 2ndclass says:

    I’d wager a Google car is probably better at picking bikes out of traffic than a biological driver.

    Maybe A&R should reach out to Mountain View to see if they’d be willing demonstrate if one of their autonomous cars are safe for bikers?

  3. DucatiGuy says:

    As a motorcycle courier (dispatch rider) many years ago I got to ride in lifts (elevators) that had human operators, and heard many similar comments.

    Self driving cars are essentially just horizontal elevators. And they can’t get here soon enough. Motorcycle safety will be dramatically improved because those motorists who currently drive around with their eyes closed will be the first to adopt them once they hit the mainstream.

    On the other hand, people who care about good road behaviour – old car buffs, motorcyclists – are going to remain in charge of their vehicles. And the roads that are the most fun aren’t really going to be suitable for automation; automated cars are happiest on big wide straight roads.

    We probably won’t experience the joy of lane splitting though. Those platoons are going to be rolling along at the speed limit except when the lights are red, and leaving plenty of room for us to whizz past them.

    I say motorcycling is going to become even more fun, and safer. Bring it on.

  4. Josh says:

    I could easily imagine all vehicles (including bikes) being required to have some kind of transponder that broadcasts the vehicles presence to all others around. This alone could significantly improve safety and allow the vehicle to take part in automated intersections and other such things.
    Overall I reckon that autonomous cars can only make things safer. If they don’t, they won’t take off.

  5. What happens if autonomous cars do make driving safer…as long as there are no motorcycles on the road?

    Or, let’s put it another way: What if insurance companies decide to charge more for non-autonomous vehicles?

  6. pooch says:

    That dude has an awesome haircut.

  7. Kirk says:

    “I strip away the old debris
    That hides a shining BIKE.
    A brilliant red Barchetta
    From a better, vanished time.
    I fire up the willing engine,
    Responding with a roar.
    Tires spitting gravel,
    I commit my weekly crime…”

  8. Brett says:

    I would prefer riding amongst sober, sensor guided, computer operated vehicles to riding amongst intoxicated idiots with their head up their cell phone that won’t bother to use their improperly adjusted mirrors or simply turn their head to see what’s in the other lane.

  9. JoeD says:

    Hmmmm. Prolly a good thing in that the morons no longer have an input. However, the cost to implement, maintain, and service said vehicles can be a prob. Countless vehicles are traded in every year when the owner cannot afford to repair so when one of these things gets bought as is, is the driver competent enough to operate? We have already established the car is smarter than the driver. No one with an IQ below 80 drives anything. When autopiloting cars become the norm, mindless zombies will proliferate.

  10. smiler says:

    Those who like innovation are never satisfied. Progress never stops. Scifi movies often sound the future.
    So driverless cars will be safer. Insurance premiums will go up for driven cars. Driven cars will become a safety problem. What happens if a driverless car crashes into somoeone else? How could you justify a motorcycle when driverless cars will be safer, get you there quicker (a justification for motorcycles). How will driven cars function in a closed loop electronic world of GPS, sat nav, varied speed limits, electric vehicles. Back roads will get crammed.

    The future is coming and it is as interesting as siting in a chair watching paint dry. More time to work though and go to the virtual health world of the gym.

    A better way to approach it would be to retest motorists if the goal is to increase safety.

  11. Campbell says:

    The slippery slope of allowing/insuring human directed transportation (classic cars, motorcycles, etc.) is really my only worry with this. If I’m not driving my classic or riding my motorcycle, I would probably prefer to not be driving.

    I like that we dismantled our railroad infrastructure to sell cars. Now, we want to turn our cars into little miniature locomotives.

  12. Damo says:

    @DucatiGuy

    I am with you on this. I also like the idea of owning an autonomous car for instances when I want to get wrecked on craft beer and I could just have my Robo-Subaru safely drive me home!

  13. ombrachecammina says:

    1. all big evolutions comes from a minority seed and the real civilization+preogress don’t kill the alternatives but live with them
    2. a self-driven vehicle finally keeps safe+”in-line” all that people that have “no time” to live the moment (driving) and try to have a “multitask day” … and all the people that drive only in the weekend with the mind arrogance of ” I know how to drive “

  14. Moto says:

    I don’t forsee automated vehicles driving the speed limit, instead pushing at faster than normal speeds. If a vehicle isn’t being controlled by an idiot, there’s no need to keep at a set speed as the “control” is automated. This would also be true for spaces between vehicles as each vehicle, I believe, will be on a mainframe guidance system, and monitored much like a plane with air traffic control. I see people more as passengers than drivers and owning an autonomous taxi that acts like a bullet train. If each specific vehicle is monitored, then it can be controlled. People can get to destinations faster as driver input (and error) has been eliminated. I think accidents can and will come from the breakdown in the monitoring system itself. If cars are clumped together moving faster, why couldn’t the spaced saved on the road be used for non-automated vehicles, say like trucks, cops, and motorcycles?

  15. Rich Melaun says:

    John Adams? As opposed to Thomas Jefferson? Surely not.

    Alas – ’tis so.

  16. Thorn says:

    The issue I have with self driving cars and altogether things that replace proper thinking functions with driving (blind spot detectors) is that what happens when they fail? How do you know it needs to be replaced? How reliable is the technology?

    For instance, with the advent of blind spot detectors, I can see people being alerted to my presence lane splitting, but what happens if the circuit malfunctions and the drive is used to not manually checking the blindspot?

    In a differnt manner, what happens if one of the sensors required for traffic input malfunctions? Maybe not an issue if every vehicle is connected and able to communicate, but what if there is a mix of autonomous and human controlled vehicles on the road? Even if the human driver has input capabilities, it would encourage the human to not pay attention, thus distancing themselves from responsibility.

    I’m all for technology and advances, but without specific securities and implementation I can’t see this being necessarily safer. People don’t like to pay money to keep their vehicles properly maintained and likely don’t even know what that means.

    If a human makes an error, they are to blame. If a self driven car makes an error, it is an entire system that could come under scrutiny.

  17. Gennadiy says:

    I’m waiting for self-driving motorcycles!

  18. Jake says:

    The march to become spectators in our own lives continues. That’s progress!

    I think Moto is right. Eliminating human input from the system changes the restricting factor of speed limits from human capabilities to technical capabilities. Who wouldn’t want to get to commute in half the time by zipping to work at 120 mph in their autopod? Motorcyclists are an outlier, I doubt futureworld will be much interested in accommodating our “hobby” if it restricts the performance of the system and/or comes at significant cost, as dedicated lanes surely would.

  19. Marc F says:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I trust google to drive a car more than I trist 95% of the distracted yahoos in cages with whom I share the road, every day.

  20. protomech says:

    “The march to become spectators in our own lives continues. That’s progress!”

    Depends on why you drive. If driving is a means – then an autonomous car is likely to be safer, more efficient, as well as freeing the one-time driver to sleep, work, or otherwise entertain him/herself. If driving is the end itself – then of course this is not needed. If you do the majority of your driving for your own amusement, then props to you. For most people this is certainly not the case.

    Technically, these systems could come to motorcycles as well – a single motorcycle entrant failed spectacularly out of the gate at the first DARPA grand challenge – but the lack of an enclosed cabin and the physical demands of riding make it somewhat unlikely.

    Autonomous vehicles HAVE to interact safely with other human-piloted vehicles on and in the road, or they CANNOT enter the market. Walled-off autonomous lanes are an absolute pipe dream; we don’t have the political will to maintain our existing highway system, let alone significantly expand it.

    300k miles is a good start, but it’s nowhere near enough to show with statistical significance that the system is safe. The autonomous system will almost certainly fail at some point under certain limited conditions; the question is whether these occurrences are significantly less than with human pilots. And only miles on wheels will tell that story.

    So 300k miles is good, perhaps 15 vehicles at 20k miles/year? Bump it up to 200 vehicles @ 20k miles/year, and run that for a couple of years. 10-20M vehicle miles should provide enough data to show the relative safety of autonomous vs human pilots, and provide information on failure points to make improvents.

  21. iamjr2 says:

    Marc F says: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I trust GOOGLE to drive a car more than I trist 95% of the distracted YAHOOs in cages with whom I share the road, every day

    Valley humor… Very funny…

    How did the wedding and demo go?

    BTW… The lawyers and manufactures haven’t said much yet…I’ll be interested in their take on auto drive…

  22. irksome says:

    Well, I know my old Bultaco had a mind of its own when it came to carberation…

  23. “On the other hand, people who care about good road behaviour – old car buffs, motorcyclists – are going to remain in charge of their vehicles.”

    I wouldn’t count on that. People are getting more and more conditioned to give away freedoms in the name of safety, and the amoral majority has no qualms about taking away the freedoms of others in the name of (your banner here). Hooliganism, loud pipes “that save lives” and all the rest play right into the recipe of outlawing bikes completely.

    I wrote about this earlier in an article about the autonomous Google car getting the nod for unmanned travel. The most likely progression here is: 1) Optional autonomous vehicle operation, with higher premiums for human vehicle operation; 2) Mandatory autonomous vehicle operation, with banning of human vehicle operation outside of closed circuits; 3) Banning of all human operated vehicles.

    Driving is a privilege, not a right. Because of this fact of politico-social life, one would do very, very well to pay close attention to the lobbying going on. North Americans are, in general, woefully ignorant of how politics and lobbying play out in the real world. You need to follow the money, not poll stats on (your favourite propaganda feed here).

    Freedom isn’t something to give away lightly. Nor is it something you should entrust to the protection of others.

  24. DucatiGuy says:

    @Trane let me expand on that a bit.

    I don’t believe motorcycles, or cars manufactured up till now, will be fitted with this technology. The degree of difficulty outweighs the benefits. And given the number of new cars sold each year, mandatory fitment to those would soon get a satisfactory critical mass.

    Nor do I believe side roads will be suitable for automation any time soon. Sharp corners, shabby shoulders, broken surfaces, and unexpected rural hazards (cows, rocks on the road) raise the degree of difficulty and the relatively light traffic on these roads means a low return on investment.

    Now, I’ve been observing car drivers closely for over 4 (gulp!) decades – that’s why I’m still alive and intact – and I have observed that most drivers – especially those in newer, ‘safer’ vehicles – are becoming increasingly detached from the driving experience. They are the drivers than can and should be automated.

    The rest of us will continue to enjoy our freedom, in fact we’ll get more of it as the main roads unclog. That’s got nothing to do with any philosophical view, it’s all about return on investment.

  25. Westward says:

    California may be a different animal than the rest of the USA, but I am inclined to agree with “protomech” when he mentions political will.

    Americans are under a delusion that they have the best everything, when countries in asia have surpassed them in building modern structures that warrant awe. Both Asia and Europe have faster rail, while the US are seemingly still using trains reminiscent of the 1860’s western era.

    Other countries are video chatting with their data plans, and the US is still relegated to wi-fi only because the bandwidth infrastructure can’t seem to support that sort of activity.

    Automation in vehicles is a pipe dream indeed for Americans. The way I see it, a significant portion of the population in the US still does not believe that dinosaurs even existed despite the many fossils unearthed in the country alone. Not to mention the issue of climate change either…

    Automated vehicles indeed. I attended a professional baseball game once and the crowd could not even decide if the beer tasted great or was less filling, so much so that they shouted it at each other. I think I was in the minority that tried to shout, “It could be both !” but a lass, it was to no avail…

  26. @DucatiGuy:

    “I don’t believe motorcycles, or cars manufactured up till now, will be fitted with this technology. ”

    On this, we are in complete agreement. I don’t think the technology is something that could be retrofitted. That said, there are already fully autonomous vehicles on the road that drive themselves. Google’s don’t require a driver at all anymore. I watched video of a guy who’s developing autonomous race cars as a proof-of-concept. So far, his car’s safely navigated sophisticated road circuits with speeds in excess of 150 mph. The future is blooming as sensor and CAN bus technology marches forward.

    The fact that autonomous vehicles are already approved for use in multiple states is a harbinger of a near future where autonomy is first an expensive option, but then becomes mandatory. Examples of such technology would be seatbelts and airbags. Initially just a good idea, they became the law. North America is so remarkably averse to risk nowadays that hand-holding, warnings and regulation involve all aspects of life. The Nanny State is alive and kicking

    Motorcycles are inherently unsafe (in the lay-public view). Worse, the outlaw, bad-boy image is alive and well. In case many hadn’t noticed, there’s a disturbing swing towards conservate, socio-political correctness in recent years that seriously puts riders on the back foot … err … wheel. (Oops. Bad analogy. ;-))

    I’m 50. In my lifetime, the places we can ride have been reduced. Amazingly, some trails are open to mountain bikers, snowmobiles and ATVs, but not motorcycles. Such is the power of anti-motorcycle lobbying.

    “it’s all about return on investment.”

    There’s a lot of money to be made in hunting down and eradicating unwanted behaviour. In the North American 3-strikes society, the privatized prison system is the #1 growth sector in the economy. That alarms me.

    trane (feeling somewhat curmudgeonly)

  27. Somewhere in my rant, I forgot how to spell “conservative”. Epic proofreading fail.

    Apologies. :)

  28. Flyingfox says:

    “Are motorcycling days numbers?”
    No way quite the contrary, maybe now I will feel safer on the road, the standard of biological driving cant get any worse, the automation for cage dwellers is long overdue and can’t come quickly enough for me!

  29. 76 says:

    I am going to use this as an excuse foolishly pretend this will cause a boom in building more racetracks.

  30. 76 says:

    Excuse (to) foolishly pretend…

  31. JimBob says:

    This car is an non practical, pet project of the google founders. It has unbelievable expensive hardware on board. Lidar, radar, inertial gyroscope, multiple gps, redundant quad core computers…etc. How do you get economies of scale for those super expensive, military grade sensors?

  32. DucatiGuy says:

    @JimBob same way they got economies of scale for those super expensive, military grade computers that were round 60 years ago (that Smartphone you’re about to throw away probably has a lot more horsepower).

  33. Gary says:

    Sure, why not introduce self-driving motorcycles to our roads. After all, for years, Honda has made terrific technical advances in removing a rider from the experience. They’ve even accomplished some impressive results in neutralizing the offensive mechanical appearance of a motorcycle. I think the self-driving motorcycle will be a nice alternative to the CanAm Spyder, for any bed-wetter who wants to tell the world how badass he/she is.

  34. Gritboy says:

    As we continue to dumb down the world and ask people to do less and less, it’s no surprise they think anyone who enjoys the excitement, excitement and experience of things like riding motorcycles is considered dangerous or crazy.

    In America, so few people see 2-wheel vehicles as practical vehicles instead of just recreational vehicles — unlike most of the rest of the world — so I’m sure one day we’ll all be forced off the roads by a bunch or obese people doing meth and talking on their cellphones while their robot cars drive them to their mindless factory jobs.

  35. Sean in Oz says:

    The safer cars become the less politically acceptable motorcycles become.

    Here the govt loves nothing more than to point out the different death tolls for cars and bikes, and in particular the big differences in the falls in deaths between cars and bike.

  36. mick says:

    Maybe a self driving car will be more alert than a dreaming/inattentive/incompetent driver and make us safer?

  37. JRC says:

    @Trane Francks: Our government is determined to prevent death from getting in the way of life… no matter how dull that means they must make life.

    Regarding the “driving is a privilege” thing: I’ve stated here and many places before, that driving is a right and not just a privilege. I won’t repeat my arguments again, other than to say that just because the government tells you something is merely a privilege doesn’t make it so. By doing so, I’d agree with you – they’ve marginalized it to the point of being able to take it away on a whim (can’t let any more pesky “Bill of Rights” type amendments impede their “progress” – god knows how many problems Uncle Sam has had because of the First and Second amendments, alone).

    I also agree with the prevailing “slippery slope” sentiment that seems to be prevailing here. This will start as a great technological aid and become increasingly forced upon everyone until it is mandatory. I feel somewhat comforted, though, in that so many seem so “awake” and aware. Glad to know I don’t live in a land of mindless drones. :)

  38. Vince S says:

    Actually bicycles will be a problem a long time before motorcycles. Stop worrying people. If they crack that one p2w’s have nothing to worry about. The worst that could happen is exclusion zones, and these would be on roads we don’t care about and they will only be allowed to do an exclusion if there is a viable alternate route.

    Long before this becomes an actual problem there will be other things happening, like substantially eliminating the need to travel, and opening up the airways a la Jetson style!

    So the whole point of the article is ridiculous and shows a lack of thought about what is actually being suggested.