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Will Blind Spot Monitors Destroy Motorcycle Lane Splitting?

Used under Shutterstock license.

My son, who commutes to work in California on a motorcycle, saw this posted on a Bay Area motorcycle chat board this morning. As you read this, keep in mind that Tesla automobiles are not the only problem – blind spot monitors are featured on most new cars sold today. Here is the post:

I was taken out by a Model3 yesterday as I was returning home on my moto. My bike is totaled. I am badly bruised. And the most irritating part is, I was going roughly 25MPH in HOV lane, not even lane splitting (always afraid of the gaps people leave and I usually scoot over to the left).

The driver tells me that his car sensors did not identify any vehicle, so he swooped in from 2nd lane to 1st. (I asked him, so didn’t you look over your shoulder?, and his answer was no, he relied on the sensor). That was a sharp lane change and I had no time to react.

What I am irritated about is drivers solely relying on sensors and car proximity devices to judge smaller vehicles when they are well aware lane splitting by motorcycles happens in rush hours …

After my son sent this post to me, I began to wonder if these automobile blind spot monitors are going to make it increasingly dangerous to split lanes on a motorcycle. One of the main problems, in my opinion, is the speed differential. If the a motorcycle is traveling 20-30 mph faster than the cars when splitting lanes, blind spot monitors on the cars will indicate the lane next to them is empty until a split second before the motorcycle arrives. This may cause many auto drivers to change lanes in reliance on the sensor. Many auto drivers may simply rely on the sensor alone … never looking over their shoulder or using their rear-view mirrors.

Let us know in the comment section below if you have dealt with a situation like this, and whether you think automobile drivers’ reliance on monitors, rather than their own eyes, creates a significant problem for motorcyclists.

74 Comments

  1. Thomas says:

    One of my recent cars had the blind spot monitor system. It did sense motorcycles so I came to rely on it although I often glanced over my shoulder anyways as that is my habit when riding. However, if the motorcyclist is passing at a high rate of speed relative to the vehicle being passed, it probably would not sense the bike in time.

    As to the transponder idea – I like it. But if the rider is closing at a high rate, this still could still be a problem. It would have to sense a bike in the blind spot and one not yet in the blind spot but with high closing rate from a longer distance back. Quite the algorithm to work out.

    • Dirck Edge says:

      “It would have to sense a bike in the blind spot and one not yet in the blind spot but with high closing rate from a longer distance back. Quite the algorithm to work out.” A big problem when driver’s start relying on the monitor alone, and don’t look.

      • Jeremy says:

        A high closing speed presents a problem for eyeballs or sensors, frankly. I’d say that is more a problem with the rider than the sensor or “looker” in my opinion. That isn’t too say that total reliance on current sensor technology isn’t an issue of course.

  2. Schmuck says:

    I’m more worried about the adaptive cruise control. Will it see my bike or just mow me over?

    Be ready to get out of dodge, people!

  3. Kyle says:

    I have 20,000 miles of Bay Area riding. I split a lot from 0-50mph. I do notice Tesla’s in auto mode in center of lane instead of the side. I really like the blind spot beacons illuminating on new car mirrors. I’ve only had two close calls of grab a hand full in all that time and both were my fault splitting through a freeway junction passed cutters who dart over with no warning. I am very happy where new car technology is headed besides electrics being way too quick for the average aggressive driver to handle.

  4. Gabriel Veasey says:

    As technology for cars develops with additional driver aids, motorcycles will need to continue to adapt as well. So unfortunately this will mean stupid stuff like the flashing headlight as well as airbags being mandated. I am all for bikes sending out a supplemental electronic signal which trips these sensors in cars, low cost, minimal impact stylistically (yes vanity is a consideration) & high yield makes good sense.

  5. ThinAndRich says:

    Misleading hyped up headline. Nothing new here. If you aren’t riding as if all other motorists are blind you will get yourself dead eventually. Sensors and reliance on them isn’t changing a thing. That’s my anecdotal observation as a Los Angeles area motorcycle commuter since 1977. .

  6. MGNorge says:

    As cars around us are getting “smarter” I wouldn’t be opposed to transponders being built into new bikes and as add-ons to older ones alerting sleepy drivers of a motorcycles presence. Anything to keep riders safer and wake up inattentive drivers.

  7. TimC says:

    This article is a bit overblown. The guy wasn’t even lanesplitting. And yeah, drivers are stupid and guess what, in this case stupid enough to misuse/misunderstand the tech – blind spot warnings warn you of… hang on with me here… a PERSON HANGING OUT IN YOUR BLIND SPOT.

    The dumbshit here is goddamn lucky – it could well have been a bus bearing down on him in the commuter lane.

  8. todd says:

    I think it’s funny when people say they “didn’t see” the motorcyclist. They’re lying. They just didn’t bother to look. If you can’t see something the size of a person on a motorcycle then you should be declared legally blind and have no business driving a car!

  9. Jorge says:

    This is not difficult. Speed is enemy #1 when “lane sharing”. Pay attention, don’t worry about your mirrors or looking to the sides. Look ahead, driver’s heads/eyeballs, turn signals etc. There are warning signs, don’t ignore them. Sometimes it’s just a “feeling”, definitely don’t ignore them. Learn how to work the front brake to the limit. Counter steering skills are a must. Always be on the lookout for a way out. Don’t put yourself in a impossible situation. Broken bones, damaged equipment, hospital stays etc are all things to avoid at all costs. Slowing down just a bit won’t cost you much. I’ve been sharing lanes in LA for 45 years…I’m still here.
    J.

    • DaveA says:

      The guy was not lane splitting. Less preaching, more reading.

      • Kyle says:

        Lane splitting is the title of this article as well as being mentioned within it, and the issue being discussed directly relates to lane splitting.

        Pull it out before you get all cranky about people having mature discussion about motorcycles. I enjoyed his preaching and so did others.

        “…when splitting lanes, blind spot monitors on the cars will indicate the lane next to them is empty until a split second before the motorcycle arrives. This may cause many auto drivers to change lanes in reliance on the sensor. Many auto drivers may simply rely on the sensor alone … never looking over their shoulder or using their rear-view mirrors.

        Let us know in the comment section below if you have dealt with a situation like this, and whether you think automobile drivers’ reliance on monitors, rather than their own eyes, creates a significant problem for motorcyclists.”

  10. Max says:

    Nothing new here. People have never figured out how to properly adjust their side mirrors anyway, let alone bother to look. Faulty sensors is just more of the same.
    I did get a kick out of the comment about the sensors going out of calibration. I doubt that’s a big problem, but a well placed shot of bird crap over the camera’s lens should do it.

    • Mark says:

      Yes. I’ve been saying it for years. Your SIDE VIEW mirrors should be adjusted for the SIDE, not the rear. You have a rear view mirror for that. If you can see the rear quarter of your car with your side view mirrors (where almost everybody adjusts them) then you have them adjusted WRONG.
      Cheers Max, two of us have them right. 🍻

  11. guu says:

    I the motorcycle is traveling (much) faster than the car, then it won’t spend much time in the blind spot. This has always been the reason to ride faster or slower than the cars, you don’t spend time in the danger zone. Blind spot monitors don’t change anything about that. If someone is changing lanes without checking mirrors (where the blind spot warning light is for a reason!) the that has nothing to do with blind spot monitoring.

  12. scott says:

    Legal, illegal, lane splitting is an intentional increase of risk. If you decide to intentionally increase your risk, don’t whine when the odds catch up to you. All the sensors in the world don’t help stupid. Mic drop.

  13. Dino says:

    Even when side sensors are working, a higher than normal speed differential will be risky (good luck trying to define that).
    manufacturers already have disclaimers for all their electronic doo dads, so no help there. And many drivers are not good enough to double check any sensor.
    Think it is bad now.. Wait until sensors start breaking, or going out of calibration..
    Trust no one but yourself. Ride like you are invisible.

    • Motoman says:

      Over the years I would be talking with fellow motorcyclists and someone would say car drivers don’t see you that well. I would interject that one must “assume they don’t see you at all… you need to ride like you are invisible. When I was selling motorcycles, I started to use the phrase “offensively defensive” to describe the proper mindset when riding in traffic.

      • Don says:

        Aggressively defensive is the term I like, though sometimes the best defense is a good offense, like hitting the gas to get past someone that looks unsafe, so your term is fitting as well.

  14. Provologna says:

    Modern electronic technology constantly over sells and over promises.

    Nothing, no technology ever, shall match nor exceed the benefit of indoor plumbing. Is there ANY electronic device you would prefer in favor of indoor plumbing?

  15. schmoe90 says:

    Interestingly I drove my blind spot equipped car down to the Bay Area a few weeks ago, and was impressed that it warned me about lane splitting motorcycles. I watch my mirrors for motorcycles when in traffic in the car, so I can move to the appropriate side of the lane to allow them past (and I appreciate when people do this for me when I’m riding – if nothing else it tells me that they’ve seen me), and the little lights were coming on as the motorcycle got closer to the car. Not a Tesla though, a Chevrolet :o)

  16. j says:

    Iv’e been lane filtering in Los Angeles for almost thirty years, and I’ve learned to look at the side view mirrors of both cars I’m about to pass to see if I can spot where the driver is looking. This practice gives me a lot of information as to what the intention of the driver is. In recent years I’ve noticed that the driver assist on the side view mirrors have become more prevalent, thus giving me information as to what the car is telling the driver about its proximity to other cars. this usually comes in the form of an orange/yellow light to warn the driver that it is NOT safe to make the lane change. some cars are also quipped with a RED light on the side mirror which tell the driver to ABSOLUTELY NOT make the lane change. If you are wearing a camera to record your ride then this gives you ammunition in court.

    NOW… if you are not looking to see what the intent of the driver is, than you probably won’t see them not paying attention which tell me ..you are also not paying attention to your surroundings. but we are not perfect and yes we often have those “Oh Sh*t” moments.

    No… Lane Filtering is not going to be destroyed by blind spot monitors.
    instead we should learn to use the light on the side view mirrors on most new cars as tool to keep the lane filtering safe.

  17. Fish says:

    Lane splitting implies that you are between cars, thus there would be a car alerting the blind spot monitor. It’s those times when you’re in a gap that you’re vulnerable. It’s unlikely that a car is going to change lanes into another car, so that makes you less likely to be taken out while splitting. Not impossible, obviously.
    The false sense of security these semi-autonomous vehicles instill is problematic. Not just for motorcycles. We’re slowly conditioning ourselves to pay less attention to the road, and that’s not going to work until all transportation is automated.
    Teslas are not the only car piloted by entitled assholes, by the way. They’re just currently the most blatant group.

  18. John says:

    Here’s a novel idea, have some patience, be like everone else, stop contributing to higher insurance rates.
    Anyone can be a primadonna.

  19. RyYYZ says:

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, most of these “driving aids” are just crutches for poor drivers, and will lull their users into a false sense of security. If you’re driving in a place with lane splitting you have a responsibility to use your own eyes and brain to decide whether it’s safe to change lanes.

  20. bicycler says:

    What is interesting to me…most blind spot monitoring systems do not function if the vehicle is moving under 20-25mph. At that speed, and even if the bike is moving only 10mph quicker, the bike should easily be visible in the mirrors before most lane changes. Swerving across lanes is almost never a good idea and stupid at best if the driver isn’t checking.

    The monitoring systems will cause issues, but it still comes down to incompetent drivers. They add these systems for safety because driving skills are rapidly declining. Then additional problems crop up because people don’t take the time to learn the limitations of the systems.

    P.S. Isn’t lane splitting in CA supposed to be limited to 15 over the flow of traffic?

  21. Dave says:

    Driver admitted he didn’t look. He’s 100% at fault. Send him the bill(s).

  22. anonymous says:

    It is possible that motorcycles can transmit a beacon or something that the sonar from sensors can pick up. So this isn’t an end of lane splitting.

    • Stuki Moi says:

      That, on a more sophisticated scale, is what V2V, Vehicle to Vehicle Communications, is aiming for. Bosch, Continental and no doubt others, are doubling down on it hard. And because Robert Bosch runs the world, once Robert Bosch can make something work technically, it tells the drunks in Brussels to mandate it across Europe. So that Robert Bosch can run the world to an even greater degree. Then, the rest of the world sees how advanced Europe is, and wants the same. Which they can have as well, as long as they pay Robert Bosch…..

      End result being that the world gets great technology, and Robert Bosch gets even bigger and more important. Largely paid for by Europeans (Who are mandated to buy the new tech even before it, no matter how “good” it is, strictly makes financial sense. While the rest of the world gets to hold off adopting it until it does.)

  23. Dan says:

    For this daily CA Bay Bridge motorcyle commuter slow and careful lane splitting is a blessing. So many Tesla’s on the roads, will be extra careful around them

  24. ATBScott says:

    I’ve been riding for a bit over 40 years now. Splitting lanes much of that time. I don’t have loud pipes. Splitting lanes in moving traffic going more than 10-15 mph faster than the traffic is just asking for trouble.

  25. My2cents says:

    Lane splitting should be illegal.

  26. Greg D says:

    I’ve noticed drivers in newer cars and SUV’s startled when I split lanes next to them,reacting to their blind-spot monitors alerting them.I know the Chevy Tahoes vibrate the driver’s seat to alert the driver.

  27. Leo says:

    Never thought about side sensors in this way. Something to be aware of. And lane splitting at 20 to 30 mph faster than the traffic is just asking for trouble.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Never thought about side sensors in this way. Something to be aware of. And lane splitting at 20 to 30 mph faster than the traffic is just asking for trouble.

    • CrazyJoe says:

      People are always changing lanes without checking as thoroughly as they should. They figure everyone else is doing the same speed. Some motorcyclist are going much faster than 20-30 and harder to see.

  29. Mark says:

    I’m the last person to say “loud pipes save lives” but if people aren’t looking….In the incident described in the story it may have helped.

    But note also the motorcycle rider was in the WRONG position in his HOV lane. Had he been in the right hand track of the left lane, the car driver would have seen the motorcycle instead of what he thought before hand was an open spot.

    • Stuki Moi says:

      Not sure if they save lives, but obnoxiously loud bikes do increase the likelihood of cagers noticing them. If loud noises did not, sirens on emergency vehicles wouldn’t serve any purpose either.

      • shane says:

        Sirens on emergency vehicles *don’t* serve any purpose, especially here in NYC. They are so ear-splittingly loud that you can’t tell where they are coming from, so frequent that you try to tune them out and with our traffic there is no place to get out of the way anyway.

  30. Peter says:

    It would be interesting to see the monitor coverage VS a traditional mirror.

  31. azicat says:

    I ride based on the assumption that no one ever looks before changing lanes or turning at intersections.

    Lane splitting legality also varies according to location. Where I live, it’s only legal to lane split amongst stationary traffic, so this ‘sensor issue’ isn’t really an issue.

    • Calder Cay says:

      Except the scenario where a person decides to, say, “pull out to the left” (in the left-most lane on one-way road).
      .
      Saw this happen the other day – was on a one-way, two-lane road and we were about 20 cars back from the traffic light. Beyond the light was a wreck, so there we are, sitting. The person to my left decided to pull out to their left to get into the U-turn lane (extreme left lane, u-turn only) to [obviously] take another route.
      .
      Bike was already in the u-turn lane moving about 10 MPH, and fortunately, the bike stopped just in time; otherwise, it would have been a bad scene.

      • azi says:

        I don’t think this is a sensor issue though; it’s more of a stupid driver issue. I’ve seen drivers doing the same with bus lanes and pulling out in front of a freaking bus.

    • Stuki Moi says:

      “it’s only legal to lane split amongst stationary traffic, so this ‘sensor issue’ ”

      It’s still an issue, since you’re moving, and cars are stationary. So they literally don’t see you until you are next to them. And you, moving at even 20mph, cannot possibly brake fast enough when a “stationary” car instantly cranks the wheel over to the stops and decides to suddenly be stationary no more.

      Unless the sensors look further back than the car’s bumper, there is no way to avoid being at risk, as long as your moving at almost any speed at all.

      Also, “stationary” traffic, is still a lot less ultimately stationary than the Rock of Gibraltar. Or even a parking lot. People creep, open doors to puke from all the Oxy they just imbibed while driving etc….

  32. Stuki Moi says:

    “I asked him, so didn’t you look over your shoulder?, and his answer was no, he relied on the sensor”

    And this ape still gets to retain his license, and continue to drive. Most likely, he’ll be treated better by our so called “legal” “system” than some guy on a (designed for 200mph) ‘Busa or 14 going 25 over in the middle of absolute nowhere, with 10 miles of sight lines in all directions and noone else within those 10 miles than a police plane overhead.

    Teslas, owing to their attempts at “self driving”, should have the hardware to see anything a driver can see in his mirrors. Hence should be able to pick up approaching bikes as well as any driver, and alert the real driver. It may take an iteration of software or two, and perhaps some better cameras/lidar/whatever they use now, but they’ll get there. Bosch has demonstrated vehicle to vehicle communication tech for bikes as well as cars, which should make driver awareness of bikes even better than it is currently. And, Robert Bosch runs the world….

    More troublesome are more “normal” cars, like Hondas, which have blind spot assist mainly as an aid to be used IN CONJUNCTION with side mirrors.

    • Dave says:

      Until we’re riding around in 100%, fully self-driving cars and their manufacturers are taking on 100% responsibility for accidents, automated safety devices should be ignored and inadmissible in consideration of an accident and driver responsibility. The driver is 100% responsible.

    • RyYYZ says:

      Unfortunately, traffic laws are made by politicians, who have no interest in writing laws that would hold the average unskilled driver responsible for their incompetence. Instead we have simpletons parroting the “Speed kills” line and harsh penalties for “stunting” and “street racing”, while idiots who kill others due to their incompetence in driving get off with a slap on the wrist (if that). Yeah, accidents do happen, but if you slam into the back end of line of cars at speed because you’re looking at your phone, that’s not an accident, it’s negligence. Same thing if you can’t take a corner on a twisty road without drifting into the opposing lane and run someone off the road.

      Holding average people responsible for their actions is not popular. Demonizing “stunters” and “street racers” is. Don’t get me wrong, I think idiots hooning down a highway splitting lanes on their rear wheel at 100 mph should be punished. But a lot of what is in the typical “street racing” or “stunting” law are nothing of the sort.

  33. bmbktmracer says:

    This was a single incident involving an idiot, of which there are millions.

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