Where do motorcycles fit in a driverless future?

Motorcyclists and car drivers don’t really see each other eye to eye, no matter what country you talk about. As a motorcyclist, you feel that the car drivers have no regard for you and ignore your presence on the road while in a car, you see the motorcyclists as reckless and irresponsible. Part of the arguments on both sides are true to be honest. Car drivers have more limitations when it comes to spatial awareness causing part of the trouble. There are more blind spots (and very often, more distractions). On the other hand, motorcyclists tend to have more random movements (and lack of patience) when compared to cars. Even the behaviour across motorcyclists isn’t the same. People on naked or sport bikes tend to speed up through every inch of space while the Harley and Indian guys prefer to have their room.

motorcycle driverless world

But this is the argument when humans are behind the wheel. What about the time when driverless cars arrive and we won’t have to bother about bumper to bumper traffic? We have all been talking about cars and their future and their possibilities and what not. But what about the motorcycles? Where do they end up in the chain when driverless world gets real?

The answer to this is rather twisted to say the least. For driverless cars, the toughest phase would be transition. The time when the driverless vehicles will be legal but standard vehicles will still share the road with them. There is just too much uncertainty associated with the stupid human, exactly the reason why the world is racing towards a driverless future, and that means the systems will have to account for all sorts of road users, including motorcycles. Of course an easier option would be to have separate lanes for driverless vehicles and in all probability, that is the route the world is going to take. Even if it is possible to execute, it is too big a risk to account for human idiocy in all its glory. And of course if anything goes wrong, it is the tech companies which will get the blame (remember the Tesla Model S crash?) so they will try to take the separate lane route. Motorcycles will happily coexist in the other lane, and maybe occasionally swerving into the driverless lane.

However, things will change as driver-ed cars will no longer be sold and companies will sell mobility instead of vehicle. You won’t pay for car or leasing a car but instead a subscription package maybe. That is when motorcycles will have to fight for existence. The urban transportation will largely rely on communication network connecting vehicles together and with the infrastructure to function effectively. It will be tough to accommodate motorcycles in this chain of systematic and efficient transportation. Even if motorcycles are somehow accounted for in that ecosystem, the brands behind driverless cars would use their lobbying skills and try to push them out of the system eventually. If I have made a component of a safe transportation system, I will do everything in force to keep an unpredictable variable (motorcycle rider) outside that system. No matter how capable and quick the driverless cars are, it is hard to escape the wrath of a novice rider who found the keys to a superbike.

motorcycle driverless world

So the news, as I see it, is rather gloomy if you are a fan of two wheels. Long way from now, motorcycles won’t fit in the perfect, safe, efficient future we are building. Our kids will probably call us maniacs when we tell them how we used to ride the two wheeled contraptions kept in certain museum on a daily basis just for the fun of it. They will probably have hard time believing that injury was possible in going from A to B.

Also read: Why the motorcycle industry needs a tesla

Not all will be lost though. Just like how cars displaced horses for utility, motorcycles will lose their utilitarian application only. You and I, hopefully we will still have the beautiful machines and the weekend track days to relive the glorious days and the Harley guys will still be ruling outside the cities on long straight highways. Do share your thoughts on this?


Akshay Sharma