Friday, 6 December 2013

Why motorcyclists should not fear the concept of automatic emergency braking

Automatic emergency braking is well consolidated for passenger cars, with documented benefits for the drivers. Nonetheless, even just the concept of automatic emergency braking raises fear and scepticism when applied to motorcycles. In this post I will try to explain why we should not fear for automatic braking and especially for studies investigating the potential benefits of such concept*.

First of all, automatic braking is meant to intervene only in case of imminent collision, when the crash becomes physically unavoidable (i.e. whatever the rider's and the opponent vehicle's actions will be). Automatic braking represents only a last resort solution. This means that in normal riding conditions automatic braking is idle and does not interfere with the riding task.

Second aspect, automatic braking is set to produce only a mild deceleration (approx. 40% of the maximum value) and is designed to deploy only when conditions allow for it, meaning that the bike is travelling along a straight path (not leaning) and the rider is firmly holding the handle bar. In synthesis, the activation of automatic braking is designed to be safe in itself for the rider.

Third aspect, automatic braking is operated as long as the rider does not apply any control, e.g. when the rider has not realised that the collision is imminent (possibly due to distraction). As soon as the rider applied additional throttle or attempted a lateral avoidance manoeuvre, those actions would immediately override automatic braking. Automatic braking is designed not to oppose the rider's decision nor interfere with the rider's action.

Even when we accepted the concept of automatic braking, still we may not trust the technology behind it. But reasonably, no motorcycle manufacturer would even think to apply automatic braking to series vehicles unless the system is implemented in a fully safe and reliable way.

Finally, I would like to indicate a parallelism with a very common safety technology adopted on passenger cars.
I believe very few people would be consciously willing to experience airbag deployment while driving. Nevertheless, few people would buy a new car without airbags. In fact we all know that there is at least a small probability to get into a collision while driving, no matter how experienced, wise and skilled drivers we are. Differently, it would be much better to avoid keeping such threatening device just half a metre from our face: airbag is armed all the time, always ready to ignite. We are indeed reassured by its silent presence, idling all the time. We believe it can be of help as last resort solution in a crash, we do not expect to face any false triggering, we trust the deployment technology and we are aware that it does not interfere with the driving task, and neither with our possibility to try to avoid the collision.

*The reference addresses the automatic braking system described in Savino et al. 2012

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