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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jul 2002

    Default Autonomous cars versus old motorcycles

    Since the post by Mike Love entitled “AMA lobbying for comments to NHTSA for Automated Driving Systems” has been replied to mostly by people with other axes to grind about the AMA, etc., etc., I am posting in a new thread some thoughts which I have had about the future problems which can be expected with so-called “Autonomous cars” and their interaction(s) with our old motorcycles. These two articles were written by myself and published in the Canadian Vintage Motorcycle News in 2016. Hopefully they will encourage some discussion on this subject.

    The Tragedy of the Autonomous’ Car—that Wasn’t
    (From the September, 2016 Canadian Vintage Motorcycle Group News)

    In last November’s column I wrote the following words regarding the Ontario government’s pilot 10 year project to test autonomous (robot) cars and trucks on public roads.
    “It would seem to be an automatic response. A small child chases a ball out onto the road in front of you as you ride along. Depending on the time and distance available you brake to a halt in time or swerve to avoid a collision, even though you might end up in dropping the bike and sliding down the road to probable injury.”
    But, in the near future (by 2020 some car makers say) there will be driverless (autonomous) “robot” cars and trucks on our roads. But if Isaac Asimov’s first ethical Rule for Robots “An autonomous machine may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human to be harmed”, is programmed into a car, in the same situation as above, how does the car choose between protecting the person or persons being carried in it and the possibility of injuring a smaller human being? What ethical choice should a “robot car” be programmed to make?
    Certainly, in the more distant future, when all cars and trucks are robot-controlled so as to completely avoid colliding with others of the same type and size, there may be significant benefits to robot cars. But to me there will always be what bureaucracy calls “vulnerable road users” (pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists) who will not be recognized by the robot cars. Some software people indicate that such ethical programming for every conceivable situation is currently impractical. Further, our old bikes would not have the electronics which would allow our bikes to communicate their presence to these future “robot automobiles”.
    On May 7th, on a Florida highway, a 2015 Tesla S car, operating on their “Autopilot” Beta-stage system, crashed at high speed into the trailer of a crossing tractor-trailer, passing under the trailer, which sheared off the top of the Tesla. The car continued for 700 feet along the highway, gradually going into and out of a fenced field, travelling 200 feet more, then hitting and shearing off a utility pole and finally coming to a halt. The driver of the Tesla was killed, presumably when the upper part of the Tesla body was torn off by the deck of the trailer. The $140,000 Tesla has computer, radar, photo and wireless sensing systems which are supposed to warn the driver of possible collision and then, if the driver does not respond, control the car to take avoidance action and brake itself to a halt.
    The accident happened on May 7th but an investigation was not started by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for about 10 days until Tesla notified them. Public notice only occurred when media reports began to come out on July 1.
    What appears to have occurred was :
    The Tesla was doing 85 mph on unsigned Florida SR500 (a 4 lane divided-with-median highway with many unmarked intersecting or access paved or gravel roads controlled, in some cases, by Yield signs), when it came over a hill and down to where the tractor trailer was making a legal crossing turn into a side road. The radar send/detect system mounted below the front bumper on the Tesla did not detect the trailer as it could see under it. The camera system mounted higher up at the windshield top seems to have failed to detect as well, claimed by the Tesla firm to be due to lack of contrast between the white trailer and the Florida sky. However, Mobileye, the company that makes camera-based computer-vision systems for autonomous driving has stated, “We have read the account of what happened in this case. Today’s collision avoidance technology, or Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) is defined as rear-end collision avoidance, and is designed specifically for that. This incident involved a laterally crossing vehicle, which current-generation AEB systems are not designed to actuate upon. Mobileye systems will include Lateral Turn Across Path (LTAP) detection capabilities beginning in 2018, and the Euro NCAP safety ratings will include this beginning in 2020.” So the camera was not designed to see a “crossing” problem at all.
    But what of the driver who, according to Tesla’s instructions, should always have his hands on the steering wheel and be paying attention to the road. Tesla also tells their car purchasers that their “Autopilot” may not detect “stationary vehicles or obstacles, bicycles, or pedestrians.” The NHTSA in the US indicates that the Tesla S ranks at only level 2 or 3 out of the 5 levels of technology required to be a fully “self-driving car”. Florida State police found a portable DVD player in the wrecked Tesla just after the crash. The truck driver involved in the accident went to the Tesla and has stated that he could hear sound, coming from the wrecked Tesla. It was, he reported, a Harry Potter movie playing. It would seem that the Tesla driver may have been distracted, at very least, from watching the road.
    Incidentally, about a month before this fatal accident, the driver had posted a YouTube video showing how his Tesla had “reacted” to save him from a highway accident—with a white truck. Apparently he was listening to an audio book at the time of that encounter.
    It puts me in mind of the long-ago “Pogo” comic strip where the slogan (then referring to pollution problems) originated. That slogan? “We have met the Enemy—and He is Us!”

    (From the December, 2016 Canadian Vintage Motorcycle Group News)
    You Just Knew This Was Going to Happen

    A traffic accident in Norway, involving a Tesla Model S with Autopilot engaged, two other vehicles, and a motorcycle, has prompted questions as to whether testing of Tesla’s Autopilot system sufficiently took into account two-wheeled vehicles. This follows recent official tests in Germany that characterized the Autopilot feature of the Tesla S as a “traffic hazard.”
    Meanwhile, a small scandal was unfolding in Germany after the magazine Der Spiegel published a previously unseen report from the Federal Highway Research Institute (BASt) on the Tesla Model S Autopilot. The German tests had started as soon as the first fatal accident involving the system was reported in May in the US. With an estimated 3,000 Tesla Model S cars sold in Germany, the authorities were understandably obliged to look deeper into the matter.
    After many thousands of kilometers of testing, BASt reportedly concluded that Autopilot represents a significant traffic hazard. Judging that is was not designed for complex urban traffic situations, the report declared that the car’s sensors are too short-sighted (i.e. short range) to cope with the reality of German motorways. The federal agency in charge of motor transport evaluated the research institute’s results and responded swiftly, proposing that the government provisionally suspend Tesla’s type approval. Although this didn’t happen, German Model S owners are reported to have received official German federal correspondence urging them to remain vigilant while the Autopilot system is engaged.
    The Federation of European Motorcyclists’ Associations (FEMA), in co-ordination with the Koninklijke Nederlandse Motorrijders Vereniging (KNMV) and the Motorrijders Actie Groep Nederland (MAG NL) motorcycle clubs, has issued a formal letter to the Dutch vehicle authority RDW inquiring whether testing procedures of autonomous vehicles take into ac- count two-wheelers.
    Similar action had been undertaken earlier by the Norwegian riders’ organization NMCU, directing questions towards the transport minister, Ketil Solvik-Olsen, and Tesla co-founder and CEO, Elon Musk. This was sparked by an accident on the E18 road to Drammen, Norway, where a Tesla Model S with Autopilot engaged rear-ended and seriously injured a female motorcyclist on July 27. Motorcycle rear-ending raises questions on Tesla vehicle type approval in Europe.
    American research conducted by John F. Lenkeit of Dynamic Research, concludes that forward collision warning systems for automobiles fail dramatically to detect motorcycles, providing inadequate results in 41 percent of tested cases, against only 3.6 percent for passenger cars.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2001


    I don't know if this fits here but thank goodness for Washington state passing a law that drivers driving while using a device (cell phone, etc.) will be classified as an impaired driver same as a drunk or drugged driver. After all isn't their car driving it's self?

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2010


    Thanks AFJ for posting and taking your time to write the articles. I am an active AMA member for 23 yrs now. I am supportive of their constant fight against the federal gov't taking away the rights of the motorcyclist whether it be on or off road. The federal gov't has reached enormous levels in mandating and over reaching. I will continue to support the fight, but with technology advancing and a new generation wanting to be complacent and having things taken care of for them by another means I believe it is just a matter of time until motorcycles, especially older non compliant (to the newer technology) ones, are banned from the public roadways. As the AMA as said over the years, banning off road riding may not matter to the majority, but next will be public highways. I fear that if a vehicle is not equipped with the modern sensors you will not be allowed on the road. Can that be added on older motorcycles and at what cost will be determined. The AMCA is always bringing up new younger membership, I think our club should get involved with this problem. Why recruit new younger members if all you will have is a museum piece and no where to ride? I just read an email from Hemmings that sand rail and dune buggies are now outlawed from public roads in TX. I will continue to support the fight, but with a mere 8 million motorcyclists in the US we will eventually be pushed aside; certainly old dimmed light, poor emission, noisy, oil dripping, non reflective motorcycles will come under attack first. In my opinion it will eventually get to the point that if you aren't in a self driving car you are not safe, let alone a motorcycle where you are the one in control. I guess it will just matter to those when it happens in their lifetime, maybe ours maybe next.
    Bob Rice #6738

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jun 2001
    Central Illinois, USA


    I appreciate your effort, too, AFJ!

    Its sad we have grudgers against the AMA for lesser issues, when we are all in the same boat, and no other national organization to lobby on our behalf...

    Get on board!

    Last edited by T. Cotten; 11-07-2017 at 02:32 PM.
    AMCA #776
    Dumpster Diver's Motto: Seek,... and Ye Shall Find!

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2002


    In looking over the NHTSA web site info posted in another thread, it appears that the US federal authorities are suggesting that practical "self-driving" cars are not going to be on the roads before 2025 - at least.
    Looking at some of the research going on in the USA, Canada, Europe and elsewhere, there seems to be much reliance on the need for all vehicles on the roads to be able to recognize and communicate with one another (called vehicle-to-vehicle) in order to avoid hitting one another. Not nearly as much seems to be said about vehicles being able to recognize and communicate with pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists and other "vulnerable road users". I see no recognition of other hazards such as dogs, cats, deer, cows, sheep or other periodic road hazards.
    Thinking of just the need for all cars and trucks to be able to "talk" with all others, and the fact that modern vehicles last 10 or more years, it would seem to me that to completely convert to an "all vehicles can communicate" state is going to be a long time in the future. Maybe some time after 2050?
    Meanwhile, we people with old bikes (my four are currently 90, 84, 79 and 50 years of age) are going to have to look out for a very small, but increasing number of cars and trucks which have some degree of "driver assist" ability. Unfortunately, some car makers are labeling their products (in their advertising) as having "Autopilot" (or other names) suggesting that they can be driven "hands off" (or "brains off") and the car will save them in a crisis.
    I think that the AMA, while it has some links to the Federal Highway govt. agency, may be able to affect the long-term future for new motorcycles (which in the future will surely have vehicle to vehicle communication ability) I do think that the AMCA should be forming a committee to look at ways and means of ensuring that any legislation or technical systems brought in to advance "self-driving vehicles" on public roads accepts the presence of historic motorcycles on those public roads.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 2003


    I agree with your last sentence AFJ. Here's what I said on the related post which seems to have killed off the conversation:

    Here in Europe we have FEMA and FIVA in Brussels lobbying the European Parliament on, respectively, motorcyclists rights and historic vehicles. Both have Websites. I met with the two organisations years ago on behalf of the AMCA, back when Pete Gagan was President and I was on the AMCA Board. FEMA have been arguing about horsepower restrictions and, more recently, against such craziness as mandatory self-inflating safety suits for motorcyclists, while FIVA relentlessly try to keep historic vehicles on the road by asking for exemptions on emissions and technical inspection legislation. Don't think it can't happen in the US guys. I would guess the Historic Vehicle Association (HVA) in the US is the obvious group we should be in contact with, but that means we first need to reach a Club consensus on what to do.

    So I'm suggesting the HVA may be the lobbying group to support, rather than the AMA, but our Board should decide.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jun 2015


    I really appreciate the thoughtful articles and your objective approach. I doubt we would change the direction of the autonomous vehicle trend but we can be aware and continue to make a case for driver responsibility.

    Mike Love

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