Safety has never been as important as it is now for riders of motorcycles. With increased speeds, heavier traffic, and a slowly-aging motorcycle population, it might seem as if the odds are stacked against lowering the frequency of serious motorcycle crashes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported in 2014 that bikers were 27 times more likely to die in a vehicle crash than drivers of cars or trucks, and about five times more likely to be injured. With approximately 8.6 million motorcycles on our highways and byways, that’s a lot of lives. Safety must always be a top priority.
While defensive riding and keeping what’s known as a “safety attitude” top of mind are extremely important, technology is now playing a greater role than ever before in helping riders avoid severe crashes resulting in injury and death. We have selected what we believe to be the top 10 advances in motorcycle safety technology for you to learn more about.
10 Safety Innovations for Motorcycles
- LEDs, intelligent lights, and adaptive headlights. Never underestimate the power of strong lighting. For example, LEDs, which are becoming popular on vehicles, make motorcycles more visible while also making the road easier for riders to see, especially in bad weather. One item, called The Cosmo, is comprised of 12 LEDs and attaches to the back of a helmet to be used as a brake light. It can also be set to blink in a consistent pattern, as well as send a message via a smartphone app if it believes a crash has occurred.
Adaptive headlights show you what’s coming up around a curve by calculating the lean angle (the angle at which your bike enters the curve). The calculated angle is then used to direct the headlights so that areas normally left dark by traditional headlights will be illuminated. BMW first used the technology with motorcycles in 2011, so it may very well be available on the next bike you decide to buy. According to AAA, adaptive headlights give a rider an enormous safety edge when it comes to 90 percent of the crashes that occur on curves at night.
- Safer helmets. Helmets save more cyclist lives than anything else in the way of gear. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that the risk of dying in a motorcycle accident is reduced by 37 percent if you are wearing an authorized motorcycle helmet.
But the usual helmet, useful though it is, has been improved upon. Some helmets have airbags. Some include cameras that can help you eliminate blind spots, avoiding crashes. And some even include materials that help prevent further injury in case of a crash, such as one helmet with a built-in chemical packet. In the event of a crash, the packet activates and cools the head in order to limit brain swelling.
- Airbag vests and jackets. Airbags are not just for four (or more) wheelers. However, with motorcycles, the airbags are inside a vest, jacket, or full-body suit worn by the biker, protecting vital organs, especially the chest. While many airbag advances have not come from the bike manufacturers, airbag clothing can save lives and are certainly worth considering. It’s estimated that airbags in passenger vehicles save thousands of lives a year—so perhaps the time for motorcyclist airbags has come.
- Anti-lock brakes (ABS). ABS, long a safety feature on passenger vehicles, is now a feature on a number of motorcycles. In Europe, ABS was made mandatory for all motorcycles larger than 125 CCs during 2016. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is leaning on the NHTSA to do the same thing in the U.S. According to studies, deadly motorcycle crashes are reduced by 31 percent when ABS is in use.
- Electronic throttle control (ETC). ETC, also known as ride-by-wire, isn’t at first glance an obvious safety feature. But it results in a smoother experience, cutting down the incidence of engine stalls and the abrupt losses of control that can result. ETC sends a signal to a small computer that controls engine power, speed, and related functions much more efficiently than an individual rider could using the old cable system.
- Stability control. Stability is one of the first things that a new motorcycle rider must master in order to stay off the ground. Unlike four-wheeled vehicles, the rider on two wheels must keep the bike from falling over or spinning out of control by using their body weight to lean, along with employing acceleration, braking, and steering at just the right moments. Bad weather and bad road conditions can make maintaining stability even more difficult.
A stability system by Bosch is similar to ride-by-wire in that a computer system monitors sensors. When a loss of traction occurs, the computer automatically applies both the engine brakes and the disc brakes in order to regain control.
- “Riding assist” robotics. Honda is the manufacturer working on this specific set of problems. “Riding assist” is a group of technologies that will prevent a motorcycle from tipping over when it is stopped or operated at low speeds. These bikes are also known as “self-balancing.”
- “Connected” gloves. If you’re not a motorcyclist, you might not understand the importance of protective gloves. In a crash, a motorcyclist’s hands can be severely damaged. But technological innovation now goes beyond protection into control. “Connected” gloves are in development, meaning that they enable riders to control GPS functionality and smartphones through the use of Bluetooth technology.
- Three-wheeled motorcycles. We mentioned that the motorcycle population is slowly aging, mostly because of the large number of baby boomer riders. As we age, our ability to keep motorcycles stable grows more difficult because of physical limitations. Therefore, some manufacturers have come up with three-wheelers that provide more balance. Three wheels are inherently more stable than two.
- A potpourri of advances that is almost ready for the safety-conscious rider. Try these helpful technologies for motorcycles that are under development on for size:
- Yamaha is designing a self-riding motorcycle.
- Kawasaki is working with artificial intelligence that will learn a rider’s patterns and take over in the event of bad decisions.
- BMW’s Motorrad has developed an automated emergency calling system which will be available on some of their European models in 2017.
It seems certain that motorcycles will eventually become as technologically advanced as passenger vehicles, making them safer to enjoy than they are now. Ride safely!