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BLAZEing the Way to Safety? Maybe Not…

Intersections—one of the deadliest places for motorcyclists. The 1981 Hurt report showed that the most likely place for multi-vehicle motorcycle collisions was in intersections, and 30 years on, things are still much the same. And the most common thing for the (usually at-fault) motorist to say? Some variation of “I  didn’t see him!” or “He came out of nowhere!” or maybe, “Look at those scuffs on my hood! I just had it detailed!”

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation tells us to wear bright-colored, reflective riding gear and to have our lights (and even high beams) on during the day. But you and I both know that people still don’t see you. What to do?

Apparently bicyclists have the same problem. “Eighty per cent of cycle accidents occur when bicycles travel straight ahead and a vehicle maneuvers into them,” said University of Brighton, England design student Emily Brooke. So she came up with the BLAZE, a bicycle-mounted device that uses a laser to project an image of a bicycle onto the pavement a few feet in front of the rider. It’s reportedly visible in daylight, and can be set to modulate for even greater visibility. Using it on a motorcycle would seem to be a no-brainer.

Or is it? Motorcycle safety expert David Hough (author of Proficient Motorcycling) says “it’s doomed to failure because of human limitations such as inattentional blindness. The biker wishing to avoid getting crunched by larger vehicles must be proactive in getting out of the way. If that’s not your habit, then it will be dumb luck when the drivers who don’t “see” you, don’t run you over.”

Agreed—there will never be a substitute for active, rather than passive riding. Our ability to anticipate traffic problems is what really keeps us alive—helmet and leathers are always Plan B. But that’s not the only bone Hough has to pick with the BLAZE:

“In terms of technology, I wonder about the wisdom of projecting a powerful laser beam into the traffic stream. And, since I’m on a roll dissing the bike-mounted laser projector, let’s imagine the result of a number of other people adding laser projectors to their vehicles if the laws allowed. Car guys would love it, and manufacturers would respond. Back in the days when bikes had their headlights on, and few cars had daytime running lights (DRLs), bikes had a small conspicuity advantage. As more and more cars got DRLs, a bike with a headlight on gets lost in the sea of lights. Imagine a scene where cars, trucks, bikes, etc. are projecting appropriate laser symbols on the road in addition to DRLs. Would the additional visual images make it easier to comprehend what’s happening, or more difficult?”

Interesting—living in an urban jungle, it’s easy to envision any means of annoyance being quickly adopted by the vast armies of troglodytes that ply my city’s streets. And then it would be just a matter of time before a law outlawing laser projectors.

Interesting idea, but perhaps better for bicycles in bike lanes, not motorcycles in street traffic.

13 Comments

  1. Cycle Fan says:

    Interesting idea, I wonder what effect this device would have on motorcycle insurance prices. Either way I just don’t think it can work for motorcycles.

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  2. Oldfart says:

    No way will that do any good. As an ex-fireman that drove a bright lime green firetruck with strobes on the front grill, strobes on the roof, a huge full width light bar full of revolving lights, a siren, AND an airhorn & at times I was still invisible to some of the idiots in their cars. Just assume you will not be seen, ride accordingly, & live with it.

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    • Ruefus says:

      Agreed.

      To not assume you’re invisible is to invite disaster. What the above post illustrates is that it really doesn’t matter what you do to be, shall we say, ‘passively visible’, you MUST remain active in your safety.

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  3. Maurici says:

    I use LED headlights and flood lights on my Ultra Classic. In rear I have a Bright-Ass-Light
    In the last 300,000 miles they have helped.

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  4. Joey Wilson says:

    . . . so I’m laying in the street right afterwards, the guy gets out of his truck and comes running over, and I yell at him, “Didn’t you see my laser symbol on the street right in front of me?!?!?

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  5. Dean says:

    Remember when a police car had just one or two slowly rotating red lights? That worked for a long while. Now Emergency vehicles look like Strobe light parties that can blind you from a mile away, and many drivers STILL don’t see them coming! People just are not paying attention, due to our Multitasking ADD culture I assume. To think that there is anything you can do to be seen is fooling yourself. Some people may notice Hi-Vis colors, or headlight modulators, but not many. I actually find it harder to judge the distance of a motorcycle coming up with the HIGH beams on, than a bike or car with the proper low beams.

    Drive Smart. Drive Sober. Pay attention. It may save your life, or someone elses! When all else fails, go really really fast to keep ahead of the trouble!!! (Kidding)

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  6. Orphan of the Road says:

    Crash-proof motorcycle technology?

    http://biertijd.com/mediaplayer/?itemid=21816

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  7. MikeTheGeek says:

    I’ll agree with Hough on the one point that you can’t count on your hi-viz reflective scotchlite hyperlites or any other visibility enhancements. They will look right at you and pull out, run the red light, or otherwise violate your right-of-way. Remember, they are updating their facebook status (new feature in Chevys I think). So if you do not have a plan for every single one of these interactions you are playing russian roulette. Practice quick stops and avoidance.

    Still, I don’t see anything wrong with someone trying to come up with inventive ways to be more visible. I don’t see the harm in it… just agree that it’s not a cure-all. The only cure-alls I can come up with are things like force fields, repulsor beams, and photon torpedoes. So until we can put those on bikes we must remain vigilant.

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  8. Simon Evans says:

    Absolutely foolish idea by someone who clearly has brains, but no common sense. The principle disadvantage lies in the fact that the image is being displayed at an angle which obviously creates potential refraction, diffraction and reflection issues – cyclist rides up alongside car driver, laser catches door mirror, deflects beam straight into face of car driver, startling him/her. Instinctively lifts foot off brake… it’s also attached to the ever-moving handlebars so the image is not persistently displayed a few feet in front it could swing through the same arc as the bars so will be out of view of most drivers, most of the time allowing for viewing angles and bonnet lines.

    The solution for accidents remains and will for ever be, personal responsibility and culpability. Those that cause accidents should PAY for it.

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    • Ruefus says:

      The solution is for the accident to never occur. Your argument about responsibility and culpability ignores the basic fact that riders simply are NOT seen. There is no ignorance or malice involved. Motorists since time immemorial have not seen the narrow profile of a rider as well as we’d like.

      It is a basic fact that a rider must accept.

      Personal responsibility and culpability have no bearing what so ever on this. None. No one purposefully turns in front of a rider they don’t know and causes and accident that often kills a person.

      Are they responsible? Yep.

      Are they culpable? Yep.

      Did the accident happen anyway? Yep.

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  9. Tom says:

    “Eighty per cent of cycle accidents occur when bicycles travel straight ahead and a vehicle maneuvers into them” YUP!!!

    http://www.metrowestdailynews.com/newsnow/x115390742/Millbury-bicyclist-hit-by-car-in-Westborough

    I crossed the intersection while making eye contact with the mini-van driver that was about to pull out of the street and onto the street I was riding on. It’s was one of those angled intersection where people tend to ignore the stop sign and just merge in. As I was just about to cross in front of the mini van I saw the grill of the old Buick about 5 feet from me on my left. The driver taking a left turn up the street I was crossing and plowed right into me. I guess I became a hood ornament for a split second as my bicycle went under the car and I went up and over.

    I landed on my head and my helmet absorbed most of the impact. I was only knocked out for a couple seconds at most. People ran up to me to ask if I was alright. I could feel my left arm was broken.

    Driver told police he didn’t see me. Sun was in his eyes. Um ya it was noon buddy. Turns out this guy was a 1/4 mile from his house and most likely had it on auto pilot. He later talked to me on the phone and admitted that he saw me as he approached the intersection but oncoming cars distracted him that when they cleared he crossed into me forgetting I was there. He saw me – focused on the cars and then looked right through me as I turned invisible.

    Left arm is back together and things could have been a lot worse. Thank God for helmets and for good surgeons. Oh ya and blind driver’s insurance policies.

    Still riding on two wheels
    Tom

    Months later I still ride after seeing the bone sticking out of my left forearm.

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  10. falcodoug says:

    I think car drivers would be looking at the lazer image and running over the real bike. Just saying

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