Ford Motor Company has won a patent for technology that detects motorcycles approaching from behind, specifically when riding between lanes (a.k.a. lane splitting, lane sharing or filtering).

Lane sharing, as we prefer to call it here at Woman Rider, is only legal in California here in the U.S., although several other states have been working through potential lane sharing legislation in recent years. It’s a common practice pretty much everywhere else in the world, including Europe. Studies have shown that it eases congestion and, when done safely, is safer for the rider. Emphasis on “when done safely,” of course.

For those who aren’t familiar, lane splitting/sharing is when a motorcycle rides in the space between cars going the same direction. On freeways, where that space can be five or more feet across, it’s like having a moto-only express lane. In heavy urban traffic, it allows riders to “filter” to the front of the line at lights, getting us through traffic and out of the way.

The biggest threat to a lane-sharing motorcyclist is a driver who doesn’t look in their mirror or just doesn’t see you before they change lanes, and that’s where Ford’s new technology comes in.

It uses various sensors, all of which are already in use in autonomous, semi-autonomous and even regular vehicles, such as cameras, radar, lidar and sonar. The sensors detect a lane-splitting/sharing motorcycle approaching from behind and feed the info into the collision avoidance system, at which point the car decides whether it should slow down to allow the motorcycle to pass, and whether or not it should stay in its lane or turn on an indicator to signal a lane change. Ford says that the technology was developed mainly for use in autonomous vehicles, but there’s no reason it couldn’t be put to use in regular ones too.

Ford's technology works by detecting motorcycles traveling in between lanes, approaching from behind.
Ford’s technology works by detecting motorcycles traveling in between lanes, approaching from behind.

We’re pretty sure we can all agree that distracted drivers are a serious danger to others on the road, especially those of us without a steel and aluminum cage surrounding us. Autonomous vehicles were supposed to be the answer, but with the technology still in its infancy we’ve already seen the tragic consequences of an algorithm gone wrong.

For this and other reasons, there have been concerned rumblings in the moto industry that we are in danger of being legislated out of existence. The fact that a major automaker like Ford has made the effort to patent technology that accommodates rather than ignores us is a big win in our book.

Not only that, it is assuming that lane-splitting/sharing is not going anywhere, and may even become more mainstream as lawmakers realize the benefits of allowing riders to filter between lanes during congested stop-and-go traffic.

There is even another company called Delphi that has applied for a patent for a similar technology that actually steers the car away from the lane markers in order to make more room for the rider. Now that’s what we call progress!

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