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Should bikes have auto indicators?

Could self-cancelling indicators prevent T-bone crashes? Motorcycle crash road safety first aid SMIDSY scientific

Could self-cancelling indicators save riders from motorists driving right out in front of them, resulting in a T-bone crash?

There is no research to back up the claim, except my own experience, a couple of fellow riders’ anecdotes and the suspicions of Dr Ross Blackman, research associate at the Centre for Accident Research & Road Safety – Queensland (CARRS-Q) at the Queensland University of Technology.

The most common SMIDSY (sorry mate, I didn’t see you) crash is when a motorist drives out from a road on the left (or right in the USA), in front of a rider. The usual excuse is that the driver didn’t see the rider or misjudged their approaching speed.

But what if the rider had accidentally left their left-turn (or right-turn in the US) indicator on and the driver legitimately thought the rider was about to turn?

It’s easy to do as most motorcycles don’t have self-cancelling indicators like almost all other vehicles on the road.

“I dare say that there is not a rider on earth who hasn’t forgotten to cancel indicators for at least a short period of time at some stage,” says Ross. “As such, the crash risk associated with this (in)action is an interesting question but unfortunately there is little to no data on incorrect signal use as a contributing factor in these situations and no specific studies to my knowledge.

“Theoretically it is possible to find whether or not motorcycles with self-cancelling systems are under-involved relative to those without, but in practical terms there are many problems.”Could self-cancelling indicators prevent T-bone crashes?

Ross gave us some detailed and comprehensive reasons why research into this situation could prove difficult including the low incidence of self-cancelling indicators on bikes and the lack of reporting of such specifics in crash data.

Yet he says it is still possible for a study to be undertaken.

“I don’t doubt that the issue you raise could and likely does contribute to some crashes,” he says.

“I expect such cases would be rare, but unfortunately we don’t have the required data to confirm this (or many other things).”

It’s not just inexperienced riders who forget to turn off their indicators. I’ve done it on several occasions, especially after a period of road-testing a bike with auto indicators.

And on a few occasions it has nearly resulted in a T-bone style crash. Consequently I never assume a motorist has seen me and always double-check that I’m not giving a false indication.

Ross says he is interested to hear of any similar rider anecdotes.

If you’ve experienced this situation, please send MotorBikeWriter the details via email.

  1. With all the other crap they’ve come out with really this
    should be a no brainer and top of the list, more important
    than headlights on.
    Experience has taught me that just because a car pulls up at
    a give way sign it does not mean they will not still pull straight
    out in front of me, likewise I never pay much attention to indicators.
    People ,especially in cars have a tendency to do the opposite of what
    they are signalling .My continued health relies on me making allowances
    for others mistakes. Human error must be one of the highest causes of road accidents
    but until people get rid of the “i was in the right” attitude this is not going to change.

  2. Agree totally there Pete! …..and yet, beaurocrats and “official” authorities have gone anal over hi-vis clothing in a perfunctory effort to reduce the likelihood of a potential accident. Perhaps more investment in the development of self-canceling indicators is a positive move in the right direction.
    I am certainly one of those riders who sometimes forget to switch off the indicator and would welcome any upgrade for sure!

    1. Hi Peter,
      Glad to see people admitting fault. I’ve been riding for nearly four decades and I still forget at times. Could be a costly mistake!
      The sooner we all realise that we make mistakes, the more likely we are to do something about it. Checking your indicators is one step. Having auto indicators on all bikes is another.
      Surely they wouldn’t add much to the cost of a bike! But then, what price do you put on your life?

      1. On my old harley i do not have indicators, i point
        people appear to pay attention more , there
        is no mistaking my intentions and i never forget
        to bring my hand in.

    2. One bike i had just had left and right buttons and only worked when
      you had your thumb on them ,..simple

  3. I don’t think any money needs to be wasted on studying this. Motorists rarely say “I thought you were turning because your indicator was on”, it’s always “sorry mate I didn’t see you”. So it’s not likely to be a large factor in accidents. Self cancelling indicators should probably still be mandatory, but I’ve ridden a few bikes with different implementations and they are unreliable at best. My bike is supposed to cancel after approx. 500m. Even when new it was unreliable and now it no longer cancels at all. It’s much easier to implement when the indicator stalk is attached to a steering wheel column.

    When I was learning to drive, I was told not to rely on people’s indicators. Always look for other signs that the driver is actually intending to turn. Even though cars have self cancelling indicators, it’s a regular occurrence to see cars/trucks/buses driving for kilometres with an indicator on, without turning or changing lanes. The onus is on the driver/rider. Even though I sometimes leave an indicator on, I am pretty anal about cancelling them. If a rider is approaching any intersection where someone might pull out in front of them, they should be doing a number of things to make sure that doesn’t happen. First thing is to make sure an indicator isn’t still on!

    1. People don’t see riders because they don’t look, not because they are confused about an indicator. Almost every near-miss I’ve had was on a straight-stretch of road, no indicator flashing, no corner to be confused about. Today’s near miss was one of those.

      Drivers just don’t look. It is laziness, not confusion.

      The idea to invest more in self-cancelling indicators can be put away with wearing hi-vis clothing. It might appear to be a good idea on paper, but it won’t make a lick of difference out there on the road where motorists just aren’t looking. And will just be another waste of time and resources that could be better spent in other areas that will actually make an impact and save lives.

    2. Quite agree Patrick. A study done in the UK, tends to back up the SMIDSY angle. This like many other initiatives by government (mandatory headlights, hi-viz) make me feel like it’s my fault as a motorcyclist (I’ve been riding for 45 years) that crashes occur. This article points more at “common” human behaviour and for me it’s shouts more about intensive awareness training for drivers and riders. It’s not just about awareness of motorcycles but awareness (and consideration) of ALL other road users. Add that to the selfish and aggressive attitudes on the road today and it spells disaster.

  4. My 23 year old xv535 has auto-cancelling indicators. They cancel too early at aproaching a junction at high speed, and sometimes dont cancel. Infuriating and awkward to disable as the indicator relay has ofher magic functions for other systems so i cant rip it out to make space for a new one.

    Perhaps better are audible indicator reminder systems?

    I think relying on auto cancel indicators is dangerous as they are more likely to be left on. “Car indicating and driver unaware due to failed auto cancel” is a whole category of accident causes.

    1. Years ago a mate of mine had a bike (Honda CB750F) with audible indicator warning, which he sometimes let me ride. They were incredibly annoying. When you were turning and had to stop at a red light they beeped the whole time. Modern technology means that they could be made better, and perhaps only beep while you are moving, or give you a reminder after a certain period of time. But, no thanks. Conventional manual cancellation of indictors works just fine for me.

      Self-cancelling indicators are just as likely to cause accidents as prevent them. They can’t be made to work like they do on a car because of the tiny handlebar movements required to steer a bike. Having them work on time or distance means that there will be many situations where the cancel too early or too late.

      1. Nothing can ever replace conscious human effort and skill, but self-cancelling indicators can help when we are forgetful.
        Most modern self-cancelling indicators work quite well and have a complicated algorithm based on time, speed and lean angle so that they account for things such as lane changed at highway speeds. They are not foolproof, but they are pretty good and on the lane-change function, they are better than any car I’ve ever driven!

        1. Like some other things (including ABS), if every bike had a top-of-the-range system it might be okay. But if they mandate it a lot of cheaper bikes will be fitted with cheap and nasty systems just to comply with the regulations.

  5. I am guilty of leaving my indicator on, and yes a fellow pulled out in front of me. it was close and i had the Mrs on the back. yes i should have seen the light on the dash but i have a tank mounted speedo and the lights are at the bottom of that, and i wear a full face. (not an excuse but it does sound like one).

  6. Crikey, my old XS1100 I bought over thirty years ago had self-cancelling indicators, as have had all of my BMW’s of the last twenty years. They work well. If I feel the need to put the indicators on early to warn some tail-gating fool to slow down and back off, I just press the button again after I’ve gone a couple of hundred yards to make sure they don’t switch off too early. Simple! I then cancel the indicators as soon as I have completed the turn so as not to confuse anybody more than the constant state of confusion many drivers appear to be already in, but the self-cancelling indicators are a great backup for those odd occasions when one does forget. In my opinion they are a small, but incremental addition to safety. With so many incompetent people allowed to drive motorcars, every little bit helps.

  7. I recently had the misfortune of a women pulling out directly in front of me.It wasn’t until after I’d abused her that I noticed my left indicator still on!
    Made me more conscious of turning it off.Self cancelling indicators would be great if all bikes had them.

  8. I was travelling outbound on Newmarket Road in the foot path lane approaching Harry’s Diner. A woman on my left was very slowly coming out of a side street and wanted to turn across the front of me. I suddenly became aware that she was literally looking right through me at the traffic behind me.. I wasn’t registering with her. I have a LED driving lamp bar on the front so flashed her my high beam. (It was daylight) The look on her face was amazing… suddenly she saw me and propped. To her, this motorcyclist and his bike were invisible. I have often wondered since then what she may have been thinking.

  9. Auto indicator’s what a bloody Joke , the Rider is responsible for his or her OWN safety and that includes Lights On and Indicator’s etc
    In all manner of life these days we have automated equipment that makes people in general LAZY, after all how many Laws and so on have been created to supposedly make driving and riding safer and yet stupid Incidents continue to occur .
    Oh by the way there is NO SUCH THING as an accident EVER, They are incident’s pure and simple usually the root cause being one or many ill timed or poor judgement decisions that result in an incident.
    Think Air crash investigation OK there is ALWAYS a root cause such as leaving for work 5 minutes late that then places you at an intersection that another commuter habitually runs a red light resulting in an incident , See it wasn’t an accident there were a number of contributing factor’s .
    Law maker’s and Safety fanatics need to bloody well wake up and realise that you cannot possibly make Laws and rules that govern every situation OR by their very application remove the need for intelligent riding and driving and control of various systems in or on that vehicle.

  10. I’m new to bikes, I frequently leave my indicators turned on and never thought I could be confusing other road users – so thanks for the heads up. I’m trying to constantly remember the word CARS & Me when out riding: Cars, Animals, Road Surface & Me (things I need to be monitoring about myself when riding). Anyways, cheers, C.

  11. Drivers are too mentally fatigued from staring at the speedo to see you coming.
    That wasn’t exactly a joke, fighter pilots become over taxed by too much information and start to become blind to much of it as the mental fatigue level increases. Car drivers are not pilots but the level of mental fatigue they suffer is a major factor in what’s called inattential blindness (IB). IB can cause a driver to not see a fire truck with light blazing and sirens blaring so what chance does a motorcycle have?
    Out of every thousand Tbone incidents one or two may have the indicators being left on as a contributing factor but it’s very unlikely that a driver who is good enough to see the indicator in the first please would make such a poor choice as to pull out .
    Just watch YouTube and you will see the poor choices some drivers make.

  12. I have 7 Suzuki motorcycles and only my old 1981 750 Katana has self cancelling indicators. they work a treat after 36 years and 181,000km, I still check all the same. My 2012 DL650 has rider cancelling indicators. The technology was there way back then so why is my new Suzuki not fitted with self cancelling indicators. I think they are a good idea as I remember as a young rider nearly cleaning up a bus and going crook at the driver until he pointed out my error, an apology to the driver followed and a very enlightened rider rode away. I just wonder at the number of less fortunate riders who did not ride away. So when out on my other Suzuki’s the way I remember to turn them off is to always push the button in during the turn and check.
    Just as an aside, one other person mentioned mandatory headlights on, it is not mandatory in Australia (unless you are a learner in Victoria) to have the headlight on, you just cannot buy a new motorcycle with an off switch in this country.

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