Life on bikes

Driverless cars could be a huge boost for motorcycling

They’re the most boring thing to hit motoring since the Mini Metro. For that reason, driverless cars could boost motorcycling numbers.

I come across many motorcyclists who are concerned about the inevitable arrival of the driverless car. I was too before I realised that taking responsibility away from a driver – who could be distracted by a text, a girl in a short skirt or even a bright motorcycle headlight they felt compelled to completely ignore – was a GOOD THING.

Reducing the possibility of a SMIDSY is obviously very welcome. Making the roads far safer will encourage more people to take up two wheels, powered or not. That could be reason enough.

I think there’s also another reason why driverless cars could significantly boost the number of new riders – boredom.

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Many people do not realise that ‘driverless’ cars aren’t driverless at all. In fact, even the name is a misnomer – they are actually self-driving vehicles. Current legislation means the cars must have a human monitor, ready take control at the first sign of a breakdown in the equipment and software that powers the driverless concept.

They must sit in the driver’s seat, facing forward, with their hands off the wheel for no longer than three minutes at a time.

It means, by the way, that talk of 800,000-odd British professional truck drivers being made redundant is probably premature.

The legislation will change as the technology improves, but until 2025 at least, every driverless vehicle will have a ‘driver’ sat behind the wheel and that driver won’t have much to do at all.

Legislation on using self-driver mode relies on drivers actually following the legislation…

From 2019, legislation will allow (on motorways only) the driver to do simple tasks such as reading a book, but insurance companies might have something to say about that. Expect policy small print to say something along the lines of, ’The driver must be aware of all potential road conditions and other driver’s actions at all times when the vehicle is in motion’. Visions of people ‘driving’ cars, trucks and buses but actually using laptops or even eating a meal are possibly unrealistic.

Which means drivers, sitting on the commute with their hands in their lap and their eyes on the road but otherwise completely disengaged with the process of driving, will be bored. Really bored. Really, really bored.

Stuck in a procession of train-like ‘carriages’, at robotic speeds and with distances between vehicles fixed using laser precision, your average driver is going to experience monotony of a kind rarely seen outside Tory party conferences.

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Switching to driver mode might not always be an option. Maybe the insurance black box and app that will inevitably be monitoring the car’s use will automatically kick in with a 200% premium rise every time the driver with real arms takes over, dissuading owners from switching out from driverless mode. AOnce the technology is fully adopted, most car journeys will use self-driving mode. There are going to be a lot of bored people on the roads.

So perhaps many road users, desperate to escape the tedium that will inevitably come from staring at the back of the same car for mile after mile, will switch to something that could become the last outpost of real driver experiences – the motorbike.

Despite efforts from BMW, Honda and Yamaha to provide AI-controlled riding experiences, I don’t see driverless bikes becoming a thing, do you? The bike will always be hands on. And it’s potentially the only way, aside from classic motors, to enjoy a real driving experience once the current generation of ‘cages’ becomes obsolete.

It might take some time for the idea to sink in for many people, but even if it’s just for the warmer months, switching to a bike would provide the antidote to driverless dreariness.

Could driverless cars could boost motorcycling numbers? Let’s see. But for every driver that does make the switch, for at least some journeys, it’s one less opportunity to get T-boned at a junction. So it will definitely be a good thing.

 

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The Author

Ian Malone

Ian Malone

Ian is the Editor and a co-founder of Biker & Bike.

He is obsessed about bikes to the point that he often starts conversations with new people by saying, "Please don't get me onto the subject of bikes. We'll be here all day."

Inevitably, the next question asked is nearly always, "What bike have you got, then?"

He owns four bikes right now:

'78 Kawasaki Z650
'97 Triumph Daytona 955i
'02 Suzuki SV650s
'09 Yamaha R1

At any one time, only two of these bikes are ever working, as you can read about on our blog.