100% Biker 191

100% Biker 191
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Last month, Jaguar Land Rover unveiled a range of new technologies it has been developing in the interests of road safety. This new system is called ‘Bike Sense’

The premise of this invention is that it uses colours, sounds and even touch within a car to alert the driver to potential hazards and prevent accidents involving motorcycles and push bikes. Sensors on the car detect the approach of another road user and identify whether it’s a motorcycle or bicycle. Bike Sense will then make the driver aware of that road user in a number of ways. If the bike is behind the car, Bike Sense will detect whether it’s overtaking or approaching the car on the inside and then the top of the car seat will extend to tap the driver on the left or right shoulder.

When the motorcycle or bicycle gets closer, a matrix of LED lights on the window sills dashboard and windscreen pillars will glow amber and then red, the movement of these red and amber lights highlighting the direction the bike is taking. Should the bike be ahead of the vehicle—say, for example, crossing the road—the car’s sensors will use the same directional lights and sounds to alert the driver, and, if those warnings are ignored and the throttle pressed, then Bike Sense can make the accelerator pedal stiffen or vibrate.

Jaguar Land Rover is keen to point out that Bike Sense is intended to complement rather than replace sensible driving—the ‘shoulder tap’, for example, was designed to provoke the driver into looking over the requisite shoulder and seeing the approaching hazard.

But, while I applaud both the technology and development which has gone into this project, I can’t help but be perturbed by Bike Sense. Here we find ourselves back with our old friend, risk compensation, a theory which suggests that people adjust their behaviour in response to the perceived level of risk. If they feel more protected, they’re inclined to take greater risks, whether consciously or subconsciously, and vice versa. If, for example, you’ve ridden on the open road without a helmet, then you’ve probably found that, whether you intended it or not, your riding differed from when you’re wearing a helmet. Should drivers really need an electronic feature that takes the place of their own observation? And how many would come to rely upon those flashing lights and sounds to tell them what’s happening outside their vehicle instead of using, as they should be, their eyes, rear view and wing mirrors and common sense? Driving should not be a computer game defined by bells and whistles and LED light displays.

I understand the reasoning behind Bike Sense; I admire the thought and ingenuity that has produced it and, most importantly, the fact that the apparent ‘invisibility’ of two-wheeled road users has been recognised. But it scares the hell out of me.