If you have ridden motorcycles for any extended period of time, you likely have had a “moment” with an automobile — it happens to every rider. Motorcycles have a small visual profile when viewed from the front and rear, and we move around in our lanes, favoring the sides or the middle, depending on the road and traffic conditions. We change velocities with ease, accelerate much quicker than a car, and in a predominantly four-wheeled society, drivers are conditioned to look for an automobile in their mirrors, not a motorcycle.

I can barely go a week without hearing a story from a fellow motorcyclist about how he or she was cut-off by some “cager” that was either not paying attention, or worse, intentionally out to injure them. The truth is, there is no great car conspiracy to run motorcycles off the road, though some drivers do let their road rage get ahead of them, not realizing that a car is two-ton rolling weapon. A great component to being a seasoned motorcyclist is riding defensively, which includes understanding that lawful riding doesn’t always mean prudent riding.

A large portion of my “near misses” I saw before they even happened. A driver on a phone, a car hugging one side of the line, a gap forming in a lane during traffic, all these things are enticements to a driver to change lanes rapidly and without caution. These conditions should also be signals to a rider to be weary of the four-wheeled vehicle near them, as the burden is on us as motorcyclists to ensure our own safety on the road — we are silly to place that burden on someone else, especially someone within the relative safety an automobile provides.

When I hear these near-miss stories, what I rarely hear are the events that happened 30 seconds before the incident. Did the motorcyclist change lanes? How long had they been behind / next to / in front of the car in question? Did they see the driver in his or her mirror? If so, what were they doing? Sure, when they came over into your lane, nearly running you off the road, they were legally at fault, but you were in the wrong to think they wouldn’t do such an act.

Motorcycles conform to traffic patterns that are different from those used by automobiles. It is entirely possible for an attentive driver to check for a clear lane, and within the time it takes to signal and move lanes, a previously unseen motorcycle can take that space. All the “Look Twice” campaigns in the world cannot overcome the reality that if a motorcyclist puts him or herself in a rightful, but dangerous position, a bad outcome can still occur. But what if cars and motorcycles talked to each other?

BMW is currently working on a car-to-x communication system that links vehicles in order to extend the “anticipation horizon” for drivers — whatever that means. BMW hopes that different vehicles will be able signal and talk to each other, and the benefits of the system could mean a great reduction in the “near miss” stories that motorcyclists share with each other.

With the car-to-x communication program being a large multi-instituional project to bring inter-vehicle communications to reality, BMW’s ConnectedRide program is perhaps the most intriguing element for motorcyclists to come from the venture. Alerting riders to changing road conditions ahead, it is also not unforeseeable for the system to alert automobile drivers when a motorcycle is within close proximity.

Other benefits from the system also include alerting riders and drivers to when there is a vehicle behind a blind turn, possibly about to enter the lane and cause an accident (it is worth noting that vehicles could also be made aware of oncoming, but unseen, traffic as well).

The system also bodes well in helping reduce traffic congestion, as well as a multitude of other benefits as it matures further. For now, the BMW Group is experimenting with 20 cars and 5 motorcycles on German roads to see how the ConnectedRide/ConnectedDrive systems should be grown and improved. Interesting stuff, and an interesting counterpoint to what motorcycling could be like when autonomous vehicles rule the road.

Source: BMW Group

  • Zaiken

    sounds good, it’s the Identifier friend or foe IFF with combat aircraft, but in this case identifier car or bike ICB cool

  • Tom

    Step 1: get drivers to notice motorcyclists

    Step 2: get drivers to care about noticing motorcyclists

    I find that step 2 will prove much harder.

  • JoeD

    Minimum IQ standards for all. DMV tesing is inconsistent and too easy. Let us fix the problem at the analog level before we move to the digital solution.

  • Devin Sanders

    It would be much more effective if it took over the cell phone display and interrupted the text the driver was working on.

  • Mikeg81

    While an “early-warning” system for drivers is a good idea, it should not replace people paying proper attention to the road and those around them(wishful thinking, I know). It should be a supplement, nothing more, so drivers can be held accountable if the hurt/kill someone and offer the excuse of “but my car didn’t warn me”.

  • Bruce Monighan

    It is not just about motorcycles, this would warn you of anything from deer to bicycles to children in the road. This is a major safety advance and it could be put on all moving vehicles. It is not so much as identifying motorcycles to drivers but is about warning all moving vehicles about potential conflicts in the road ahead or to the side or around the corner.

    Hope this works. If so I would have one on my cars and motorcycles sitting right next to my radar detector. Early warning is good for all of us.

  • Daniel

    I definitely have to thank you for your mention that it is definitely up to riders to watch our own butts out there and not to rely on any person or piece of technology to do it for us. Drivers of cars aren’t looking for motorcycles, they’re looking for cars, trucks, etc. For example, say you’re looking for a pen, but in your mind the pen is green. During your search you pass over the blue pen in clear view on a table but you don’t think about it because, while the color is of no meaning, in your mind the pen should be green.

    These new electronic devices now being installed in new cars is both a blessing and a curse. One, they are a tool to assist the driver of hazards and prevent an accident. The curse is that they can make people complacent and to rely on those devices without using their own skills and experience to do it themselves. To me, “accidents” are not accidental. I define an accident as the unforeseen result of a series of actions or events. The key word being “unforeseen.” For me as a rider, this means, while I’m out riding, I have to be aware of where I’m placing myself and what I’m doing. If you put yourself in a blind spot, don’t be surprised if you get merged into. If you’re speeding and weaving up through traffic, don’t be surprised if someone merges over in front of you. During every single close call, I knew what the driver was doing before he/she did and was able to anticipate what happened next. This isn’t meant to imply that you need some Jedi-like powers, just some awareness. Just don’t drop your guard or you could pay for it.

  • Andrew

    I don’t see how it can work in practice. Iif the warnings are subtle drivers will overlook them just as easily as they overlook the actual hazards. I mean, if they can’t see a real 200kg+ motorcycle in front of them what are the chances they will notice an icon somewhere on their display? On the other hand if the warnings are intrusive, drivers will get frustrated and either turn them off, or learn to ignore them on purpose because they’d drive them crazy… which brings me to my third point: driving in the city traffic is full of such hazards so the system will be going off all the time, with an inevitable de-sensitising effect.

  • JoeD

    Take away all of the EWS(Early Warning System) farkles and TEACH people how to drive. Raise the bar and those who cannot adapt go to public transport. How many idiots get lost/crash/die because they rely on GPS? It is sad to see how many of the MSF beginners do not have a clue about cancelling signals, clutch control and choke use. But they sure know how to text and manipulate an I-Pod. While in the driver’s seat.

  • Brett

    Cell phones are the biggest problem aren’t they? Or darn near… My thought has been too use the phone’s internal GPS to disable texting and calls while the phone is moving faster than 25 mph. 911 would not be disabled at any speed. As for passengers: Once upon a time there were no cell phones at all and people conversed with those next to them, and lived happier, less complicated lives.

  • Andrew

    @Brett several problems with that idea: One, not every cell phone has GPS, smart phones might get all publicity but there are plenty of simple models around. Two, even those who do have GPS might turn it off – mine is almost always off for example because I hardly ever use it and it does increase energy consumption while it’s on. Three, in any case I think this fixation with cell phones is slightly over the top – sure, they are distracting but I cannot see how fiddling with the phone is any more distracting that fiddlng with the same features when they are in-built into the dash (GPS or music). Or how talking on the phone is worse than talking to another person in the car, especially when they sit behind the driver (parents driving their children around are the most dangerous road users as far as I’m concerned)

  • Tim

    My gut-reaction to this idea is to be wary of privacy; I don’t see why anyone else should know my whereabouts unless I want them to, so a lot of this is implementation-dependent. (Long-range bluetooth, fine; if it involves a central organization such as BMW or Google knowing where I am, then it’s up to me to vet them; if it involves a device being fitted to my car, then you can take it and shove it.)

    For every gadget in/on a vehicle, there will be those who can and those who can’t use it properly – witness the number of idiots who blindly follow their satnavs into untenable situations.
    Even assuming instantaneous 100% penetration of the car and bike markets, it’s not going to alert you to pedestrians texting as they step off the pavement, nor to deer or cats… so it can never take the place of paying attention. Frankly, I think the money would be better spent educating people to concentrate on the road.