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Could Autonomous Automobiles be the Answer to Save Motorcyclists

It is no mystery that while motorcycle riding may be enjoyable, it is one of the riskiest forms of personal transportation. The numbers speak for themselves. Per mile traveled, the number of motorcyclists' deaths exceeded 26 times that of car drivers in 2013 1 .While there are inherent risks to riding a motorcycle that drivers do not experience, there is a larger public safety issue at hand. Drivers are not noticing motorcyclists until it is too late to react.

Drivers' failure to notice motorcyclists is not a new phenomenon either. People are quick to blame cell phones or text messaging for distracted driving, but this issue has persisted before the rise in cell phone popularity. The Hurt report, written in 1985, goes into great depth regarding the causes of motorcycle accidents. On Other Vehicle Violation, the Hurt report definitively states "the greatest part of this accident cause factor is related to the failure of the automobile driver to "see" the oncoming motorcycle, or to "see it in time" to avoid the collision." 2 While the addition of cell phones have added another element of distraction to the everyday driver, the problem of identifying the motorcyclist before the accident can be avoided still remains. Computers, on the other hand, are not so easily distracted.

A computer's or autonomous vehicle's actions are entirely predictable; sensory input is interpreted through designed algorithms and the results or next action is determined. The data is collected so rapidly the computer is able to make these decisions fluidly, similarly to a human. The difference then between the human and the computer is the amount of sensory input and the predictability on a moment-to-moment basis. For motorcyclists, this predictability could save lives. Rapid lanes changes caused by inattention could be a thing of the past. The common left-turn accident into an oncoming motorcyclist would never happen if the car could determine the maneuver was unsafe.

Does this mean we should immediately adopt autonomous vehicles? Unfortunately, it is not so simple. The fact remains that we have a long way to go before autonomous vehicles are driven ubiquitously throughout the United States. In addition to the changes in legislature, the algorithms that determine the vehicles actions are still being modified to ensure more reliable public safety. All that stated, many are hopeful that autonomous vehicles can make our roads a safer place for all.

1. http://www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/Main/index.aspx

2. http://isddc.dot.gov/OLPFiles/NHTSA/013695.pdf

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