In that brief moment of panic before a crash, Oh Shit! is the cry of many a rider and it refers to those 2 seconds before a crash.
This is the point in time where even the most experienced rider freezes – because they have never been confronted with that situation before.
One of the solutions on the table to reduce crashes is speed warning systems for motorcycles [i].
But the most important element about warning systems is the time factor. Findings from the Hurt report (1981) [ii] tell us that the typical motorcycle accident allows the motorcyclist just less than 2 seconds to complete all collision avoidance action.
Human Machine Interface (HMI) systems include vibration, pulsation, flashing lights, head-up displays on helmet visors and/or audio systems to act as an alarm to “warn” the rider. Of particular interest is the “force feedback throttle” in which the throttle can have variable force feedback when the rider is required to slow down.
The Intelligent Speed Adaption (ISA) trials held in the West Midlands (GB) which used force feedback in the throttle for motorcycle speed limiters were a failure. Each motorcyclist that tested the trial bikes came to the same conclusion: that the device was dangerous, because of the propensity to make the motorcycle unstable and because of the real possibility of distracting the rider and thus causing the vehicle to crash.
An EU Commission funded project in which Advanced Rider Assistance Systems (ARAS) are being developed for motorcycles will include the use of HMI technology in order to warn the rider of a potential crash or collision in a number of scenarios. From the article “New HMI Concept for Motorcycles – the Saferider Approach: [iii]
Force feedback in throttle: a throttle with programmable return force is being developed. “In the project the motorcycle will be equipped with a force controlled throttle able to tune the return force through a servo controlled electric motor in order to communicate a speed reduction warning [iv]”.
Other warning systems are:
- Haptic Feedback in Handle (NB the throttle is equipped with three pulsating buttons): “Different than the force-feedback throttle is an approach to give haptic (tactile) feedback either on the right handle, the throttle, or on the left handle”.
- Vibrating bracelet: “A wireless driven bracelet with integrated vibrotactile elements that give vibratory feedback on left, right, top and bottom sides of the right hand wrist is developed”. [v]
- Vibration in Seat: “Since a high amount of feedback from the motorcycle and road is received by the bottom of the rider (…). In Saferider a vibration unit is developed which aims to give feedback at the seat to communicate a warning to the rider” [vi].
Studies such as one carried out by Bliss and Acton [vii], indicated that their experiment participants (70) “reacted poorly to alarm urgency, becoming distracted and confused. Urgent, reliable alarms evoked responses that, while appropriate, led to a greater number of collisions. For this reason, advocating quick, reflexive reactions to automated alarm systems may not be a wise course of action. Furthermore, the negative impact of such reflexive behaviour may well be compounded in situations where task workload is heightened, or where there are a number of collateral alarm systems”. (2003:507).
In the Saferider article, the authors state that “In a first application the haptic handle can be used to communicate information on potential dangerous situations; this is strongly related to the tactile characteristic of the system: A feedback executed with a frequency of 2Hz, applied for a short period, not longer than 5 seconds”
According to Burns (2007) [viii] a signal informing the driver of a hazardous situation, which if not corrected by an immediate action (0 to 3 seconds), will result in equipment damage and/or personal injury. Hurt and his team found that the typical motorcycle accident allows the motorcyclist just less than 2 seconds to complete all collision avoidance action, or as riders call it: “Oh shit!” mode.
This has very important repercussions on warning systems, because the haptic handle experiments in the Saferider project are based on reaction times of 3 or 5 seconds – too late in real life. If it takes more than 2 seconds to warn, it is likely that the rider has already crashed.
Dingus et al reported that “An advisory warning may provide information and draw a driver’s attention early in the consequence chain for the prevention of an emergency situation, but a collision warning follows a chain of events close to a crash or to a near-crash that needs immediate treatment”. (1998:73) [ix]. What this means is that a big sign on the side of the road indicating that there is danger ahead (whatever that danger is) would be more effective than a force feed throttle or a vibrating arse, even though it would only be of any use if it tells you something you either don’t know, or can’t see.
All this, without delving into the responsibility of system failure and liability which is relevant in terms of who pays; or the accuracy of Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) and Global Positioning System (GPS) maps which are fundamental to the design of some of these warning systems,
May I suggest that our governments and researchers start treating riders with more respect and scrap IT warning systems in order to concentrate on the best system on a motorcycle for preventing crashes – the kit between the rider’s ears. Better to shake, rattle and roll to the sound of a guitar than from some system warning us to act when it’s already too late.
Elaine Hardy PhD
[i] Ambak K et al (2009): Intelligent Transport System for Motorcycle Safety and Issues. http://www.eurojournals.com/ejsr_28_4_11.pdf
[ii] Also known as “Motorcycle Accident Cause Factors and Identification of Countermeasures” it is the seminal report on motorcycle accident causation, but even now, there has never been a study to equal the quality and depth of the Hurt report, partly because motorcyclists carried out the research.
[iii] Diederichs J.P. et al (2009): New HMI Concept for Motorcycles – the Saferider Approach, in D. Harris (Ed.): Engin. Psychol. and Cog.
Ergonomics, HCII 2009, LNAI 5639, pp. 358–366, 2009. Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2009
[iv] From the Saferider article: “The throttle is a critical interface for the rider stability and control of the vehicle and every action and force that is applied on it has to be carefully chosen. For this reason the programmed behaviour of the throttle is designed for a non invasive and highly intuitive feedback. The control principle is based on gradually increasing the stiffness of the return spring adding a simulated stiffness when a speed warning has to be transmitted. The system consists of an electric motor that is connected through a pulley on the return cable of the throttle. A dedicated electronic unit controls the motor to behave as a virtual spring in parallel to the return spring. The wanted stiffness and the stiffness variation slope are programmed. A set of tests on a riding simulator is foreseen in order to tune the system parameters and study the stability and safety of the system before integrating it into an on-road motorcycle.” (idem 2009)
[v] “The vibrations will be employed for transmitting navigation hints and to communicate when speed limits are overcome” (idem 2009)
[vi] “Analogously to the Vibrating Bracelet, the system consists of a custom vibrating eccentric mass motor which is however more powerful. The motor is fixed under the saddle of the motorbike and is controlled in ON/OFF mode through dedicated electronics” (idem 2009).
[vii] Bliss J.P, Acton S.A.(2003): Alarm mistrust in automobiles: how collision alarm reliability affects driving; Applied Ergonomics 34 pp 499–509
[viii] Burns P et al (2007): Guidelines for Safety Critical Warnings Informal Document No. ITS-15-09 15th ITS informal group, 16 Nov. 2007
[ix] Dingus T.A, et al. Human Factors Design Issues for Crash Avoidance (Chapter 3) Systems in Barfield and Dingus (1998) Human Factors in Intelligent Transport Systems.