Motorcycle Safety And Technology Advances

It seems to be an accepted fact that riding a motorcycle is more dangerous than driving a car. In the US, while motorcycles account for less than 1% of miles driven, they made up 15% of traffic deaths since 2012. in 2017, according to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association: “”motorcyclist fatalities occurred 28 times more frequently than passenger vehicle fatalities in motor vehicle crashes when accounting for vehicle miles traveled (VMT)”. The total number of deaths was down slightly that year (the most recent statistics available), but there were nearly 5000.

Today, advances in safety and technology are enabling motorcyclists to enjoy their preferred mode of transportation safely and in harmony with the surrounding vehicles. 

What safety changes have been made on motorcycles?

Headlight technology improvements enable motorcyclists to be more visible both in daylight and after dark, as well as to have better visibility of what’s happening ahead of and around them. Adaptive headlights solve the problem of turning, in which the path forward has been dark, due to the tilt required to turn correctly, using both electric sensors and a pivot to swing the headlight as the cycle makes the turn.

Headlight modulators provide greater visibility for daytime running lights by varying the brightness, making the light more noticeable to other vehicles. Only motorcycles are permitted to have modulators, although daytime headlight usage has become standard on most passenger vehicles.

Why don’t motorcycles have airbags?

In cars and trucks, airbags are widely acknowledged to save lives of drivers and passengers in crashes. Motorcycles, with far less protection offered to the riders, are more vulnerable to impact. In 2006 Honda outfitted its Goldwing with an airbag designed to deploy in a head-on crash and avert ejection. In 2016 the Goldwing was caught up in the massive recall of Takata airbags that was experienced by so many vehicle manufacturers. However, not all the cycles sold with the airbag were included in the recall. The airbag remains optional on the Goldwing.

As alternatives to bike-based airbags, some riders have turned to protective clothing. Motorcycle enthusiasts have long opted for hardy jackets and sturdy jeans, but technology has advanced into clothing designed to respond to and anticipate impact. Old fashioned airbag suits function by being attached to the bike—if the connection is lost, the suit will deploy, much like a personal watercraft will turn in circles after the driver falls off. The newer systems, developed by racing teams, anticipate crashes, using accelerometers, and a trio of gyroscopes. The major manufacturers have developed models for racing and variations for street usage, tweaked to protect the rider by deploying more quickly. Troy Siaahan of Alpinestars noted that “the entire purpose of the extremely fast inflation times is so the rider has complete upper body airbag protection before ever making contact with anything hard – the ground, the handlebars, the car that hit you, etc.” Dianese and Alpinestars have complete suits available for consumers, starting around $1200.

If you are looking for a smaller expenditure or prefer not to wear a full-coverage suit, there are airbag vests and as well. Tethered vests start as low as $300 (from Merlin), and are simple to use, but have drawbacks (if you forget you are wearing it, you may waste a charge when you don’t unlatch before you dismount from the bike.) Dianese and Alpinestars have algorithm models with higher price tags.

A new startup has recently announced plans for an airbag seat, to which the rider would strap himself. The seat and airbag system would eject and deploy only when it sensed circumstances that required it. According to the fundraising site, deployment would occur  under conditions that could only be a crash. On the other hand, the system will automatically release the rider if he tries to stand up from the bike when stopped or in a minor crash. Currently, this innovative idea is still on the drawing board and raising investor interest via an Indiegogo offering.

What’s the future of helmet technology?

New advances in smart helmet technology were showcased at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show. Chinese manufacturer Livall unveiled a sleek, smart helmet with front and rear lighting activated by braking to enhance rider visibility, a 4K HD camera, GPS, blind-spot monitor, and Bluetooth connectivity with the buttons on the visor hinge.

The newest model from French helmet producer Tali (available soon, subject to the success of crowdfunding efforts) will offer color-changing LED lighting on the helmet, and the Bluetooth function allows music, calls, and navigation instructions. It will also place an emergency call ion the event of a crash. (The emergency call can be disabled if you drop the helmet.) The Tali model also offers a geofence to assist in tracking it down if lost or stolen, a visor that adjusts to light conditions, and connectivity with smartphone assistants.

But even before those futuristic models hit the actual market, there are advanced features available now for riders’ comfort and safety. For example, the Crosshelmet X1 offers a heads-up display that includes weather, navigation, and current time, along with LED lighting, noise control, and expanded visibility. This helmet lacks a built-in camera. If that is your preferred option, take a look at the Sena Momentum. In addition to a great camera, it sports a mic, speakers, Bluetooth, FM radio and intercom. The Skully Fenix AR has the rearview camera, smartphone compatibility, navigation, and the heads-up display to keep your eyes on the road.

What about V2V?

Vehicle to vehicle communication could save thousands of lives every year if implemented in all vehicles, according to the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration). V2V technology means vehicles are sharing information wirelessly about their location, direction, and speed. The technology enables appropriately equipped vehicles to exchange messages up to ten times each second with all other equipped vehicles in the vicinity, creating an awareness of the surroundings, and allowing the equipped vehicles to either take action or alert the driver to do so when necessary. This technology is a complement to existing, more widespread radar and camera-based collision avoidance systems. Because the NHTSA strongly supports this lifesaving technology, it issued what it calls a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in 2017, which laid out the following:

  • Required that vehicles with V2V would transmit and receive standardized messages
  • Proposed a communication platform
  • Left determination of implementation method to the market;

The NHTSA efforts are directed toward all vehicles, regardless of type. But motorcyclists have a potentially more significant stake in this technology’s success since many accidents happen when other drivers, usually in cars, do not see them. If the vehicles can “see” each other, and share that information between themselves, many accidents may be avoided altogether.

Sources used