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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  1. No, the biggest threat to lane sharing riders are drivers who don’t give a damn! I’ve seen videos of drivers purposely crashing lane-splitters, in California – where lane-splitting is perfectly legal!

    It seems there are an awful lot of “cagers” who let their butt-hurt get in the way of their common sense. Personally, if Wisconsin were to pass a law permitting lane splitting, I’d probably wait a few years for the news to “filter down,” before attempting it.

    I know what we went through when our DOT started introducing round-about into our roadways…

  2. PA Vehicle Code 3523. Operating motorcycles on roadways laned for traffic.
    (a) Right to use of lane.–All motorcycles are entitled to full use of a lane and no motor vehicle shall be driven in such a manner as to deprive any motorcycle of the full use of a lane.
    (b) Overtaking and passing.–The operator of a motorcycle shall not overtake and pass in the same lane occupied by the vehicle being overtaken.
    (c) Operation between lanes or vehicles.–No person shall operate a motorcycle between lanes of traffic or between adjacent lines or rows of vehicles.
    (d) Limitation on operating abreast.–Motorcycles shall not be operated more than two abreast in a single lane.
    (e) Limited access highways.–No motorized pedalcycle shall be operated on any limited access highway.
    (f) Exception for police officers.–Subsections (b) and (c) do not apply to police officers in the performance of their official duties.

    Anyone every had an idiot cager come from behind and pass them (on the right) without bothering to change lanes? I have! As you can see from the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code above (3523-a) it is illegal (not to mention dangerous to the motorcyclist) for the car driver to do that. We have a right to the “full use of a lane”. Therefore, it is hypocritical for us to demand the full use of a lane when it suits us, and then to turn around and want to “share” a lane with a car. Its kind of like you father sitting there smoking a cigar and drinking a beer and telling you not to drink or smoke.

    • Here in California–as well as in most other places in the world, including Europe–lane splitting/sharing is legal. And it works. We certainly don’t condone doing it in states where it is not legal, but we do support legislation that will make it legal. And Ford, by patenting this technology, clearly sees that this is the future as well.


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