Will Autonomous Motorcycles Be Safe Enough?

A company called AB Dynamics recently made the news by demonstrating their self-driving scooter system, featuring a BMW C1 scooter.

I have no other knowledge of AB Dynamics, and while I hope they succeed with this product, my interest was primarily piqued by safety.

In the United States, motorcycles are 27 times more dangerous than passenger vehicles. Specifically, the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled is ~25 for motorcycles and less than 1 for passenger vehicles.

I’m confident there are complicating factors underlying those numbers, such as motorcyclists getting hit by passenger vehicles, and unsafe riders who don’t wear proper equipment (including riding without helmets!). But perception is that riding a motorcycle or scooter is risky, at least relative to cars, and statistics seem to bear that out.

Thus, the potential of self-driving motorcycles to be significantly safer than human-driven motorcycles could be an important advance for autonomous vehicles, and not just for current riders.

For one thing, motorcycle are much more fuel-efficient than passenger vehicles. Average fuel efficiency for motorcycles is 44 miles per gallon, compared to 23 for cars. Motorcycles also take up less space on the road, and presumably damage the road less than heavier passenger vehicles.

Realistically, probably 80% of my miles could happen on a motorcycle. In reality, probably 80% of my miles happen in a Ford C-MAX (Energi!), with the rest on public transit. The reason I don’t use a motorcycle is mainly safety.

Also I’m not trained or licensed. That’s another problem self-driving motorcycles would solve.

A world of super-safe self-driving vehicles might still mean single-seat four-wheelers tooling through the city. All sorts of people and clothing and cargo requires a four-wheeler. But super-safe self-driving vehicles might also mean a lot more scooters.

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