As the automotive world ties itself in knots trying to work out what self-driving cars will do when they encounter a pedestrian, pushbike or runaway pram, one group has been largely neglected. Having received a letter from motorcycle groups concerned about rider safety around cars running semi-autonomous driver assists, the agency responsible for granting type approval in Holland (RDW) has decided to test new semi-autonomous driving systems to see how they deal with two-wheeled road users.
Chief among the concerns of RDW is human driver attention, or a lack thereof. Although systems like Tesla Autopilot are able to handle steering, throttle and brakes on the highway, they still currently rely on an alert driver to act as a failsafe. In our time with an Autopilot-equipped Tesla, we needed to grab the wheel a number of times, as the car misread lane markings or didn't react quickly enough to merging cars. Had we not been awake, and had those merging cars been motorbikes, our review might have read like a traffic accident report.
The RDW is planning to cooperate with major European motorcycling organizations to test a range of new cars running semi-autonomous driver assists. As well as making sure such vehicles can correctly detect motorcyclists and respond accordingly, the tests aim to work out a set of techniques motorcyclists can use to be spotted by self-driving systems. According to the RDW, these tests should be mandatory for companies seeking European type approval.
"We are very pleased with the outcome of this first meeting with the experts of RDW," says Dolf Willigers, General Secretary of Federation of European Motorcyclists' Associations. "We are going to act together and we will see in the field tests to which extent the technique takes motorcyclists into account.
"In the coming years this will continue to be an important issue for FEMA and we want to ensure that motorcyclists literally are not overlooked in the development of the newest generation of cars. The test program can have lasting effects on road safety for motorcyclists in Europe and therefore I am particularly proud that the motorcyclists' community works together and will cooperate with the authorities responsible for allowing such sophisticated cars on public roads."
The testing program will be laid out in the first quarter of 2017, and the groups involved will brush up on research about self-driving cars and motorbikes before conducting field tests later in the year. Currently, the RDW and motorbike interest groups believe the systems add to road safety, but only if they are used by alert drivers.