Intelligent Vehicles

“Intelligent” Vehicles, autonomous operation and vehicle control systems

by George Tranos


The trend today in the automotive industry is a move towards intelligent vehicles. The reason for this is because most crashes typically are a result of human error and may be preventable. The logic is that if some intelligence is built in to the vehicle then some mistakes can be avoided, lives saved, injuries reduced and accidents avoided. As more effort and dollars are expended into research, motorcyclists should be concerned that these systems recognize and adjust for their presence.

While there are other ways to improve driving safety, regulators both here and abroad, are looking towards vehicle manufacturers to implement intelligence into their models. Driver education and licensing is one area where all agree more effort could be focused. The American driving public; however, is reluctant to agree to tighten licensing standards or periodic retesting. Enforcement of traffic rules can also help reduce crash statistics; however, public outcry has highlighted the inequitable methods that are sometimes used to target drivers and the unintended consequences of traffic stops gone wrong. Additionally, our roads and bridges are crumbling because of a lack of investment in infrastructure. It takes years and millions (or billions) of dollars for large public works projects such as new highways, bridges or tunnels to be constructed. This leaves vehicle intelligence systems as the last, best chance to improve road safety.


It may be hard to believe but many of today’s cars are the leading edge in the move towards greater vehicle intelligence. Safety and fuel consumption top the list of important factors considered by car buyers in many surveys. As a result, manufacturers are building in safety systems that assist the driver to avoid crashes. Safety systems have been in use for many years on automobiles. Anti-lock Braking Systems (ABS) has been available since the late 1970’s and most models today come equipped with ABS. More recently, automatic emergency braking has been added as an option to some cars. This will stop or at least slow the car if the driver does not react in time. Some of these systems work only in low speed situations, others at higher speeds. The purpose of all of these systems is to prevent a front end crash. Some systems detect pedestrians, bicycles and other smaller objects. The question for motorcyclists is to what extent will they detect our motorcycles?


An unintended consequence of these automated systems is that drivers can be lulled into a false sense of security. They may become even less aware than they are now (if that’s possible) of their surroundings! Loss of focus on the driving task, driving distractions, drowsy and drunken driving are the cause of many crashes. Whether automated braking and other systems help prevent these types of accidents may be dependent upon the system design, its detection parameters and if the vehicle driver loses situational awareness because of the presence of such systems.


Many types of intelligent vehicle systems are in our future. Things like lane departure warning, dynamic cruise control, blind spot detection and warning, speed alerts, real time traffic and weather information and even driver alertness warning systems already are in existence and available on some vehicles. The future will hold even more sophisticated systems including vehicle to vehicle and vehicle to infrastructure communication and autonomous driving vehicles. While we cannot control the future, motorcyclists and motorcycle organizations must mobilize to make sure our voices are heard and that all of these systems take motorcycles and their riders into account. After all, our safety is just as important as those of car drivers. We may also have to become better riders to account for the reduction in driver awareness that these supposed intelligent systems will provide