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Will Motorcycle Touchscreens Actually Make the Bike Safer? Harley Davidson Thinks So.

Infotainment systems, devices known for providing entertainment and information content to users, are not awfully new technologies for automobiles, but they are new to motorcycles.  Earlier this week, Polaris Industries, the owner of Indian and Victory brand motorcycles, revealed its new 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system dubbed “Ride Command,” which will provide riders with easy navigation, the ability to sync their smartphone to the system, and additional features such as locating the nearest gas station when the motorcycle’s fuel tank is low.  The system will come standard on all of Indian’s new Chieftain and Roadmaster bikes.  Steve Menneto, president of motorcycles at Polaris, expressed the company’s excitement about the feature, saying, “We’re really pumped up about this. We’re opening up a huge part of the market for ourselves.”  In reality, Polaris is not the first bike company to introduce a feature like this.  BMW debuted its Navigator V device on its bikes back in 2013, and Harley-Davidson released its Boom! Box technology a year later.  These companies are all competing for the most popular infotainment system, but is this really such a good idea?

Motorcycles are inherently more dangerous than automobiles.  They require much more attention and coordination than maneuvering a car.  According to recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, motorcyclists are 26 times more likely to die in an accident than motorists.  In 2013 alone, 4,7000 motorcyclists were killed, and 88,000 were injured.  In recent years, crash rates have decreased, perhaps due to improved brakes and better rider education.  It is surprising that this decline also coincides with the introduction of such infotainment systems.  Supporters claim that as long as the systems are used correctly, they can increase safety for motorcyclists.  In terms of navigation, using a hand held phone or a paper map can be more distracting than a device mounted within the handlebars of the motorcycle itself.  Additionally, the units can help the riders avoid traffic, beat up roads, and stormy weather while also providing the rider with mechanical alerts about his or her vehicle.  BloombergTV reporter, Matt Miller, believes his BMW infotainment unit saved his life after warning him about a rapidly deflating tire while he was cruising on the highway. 

Matt Levatich of Harley-Davidson explains how his team developed Harley’s infotainment system, Boom! Box.  Levatich highlights their goal as assuring riders never need to actually look at or touch the screen.  “It’s not about technology for technology’s sake,” Levatich said. “When I’m riding, I do everything I need to do with my thumbs, or when I have my helmet on, with my voice.”  Many infotainment technology systems also record data such as acceleration, braking, and lean angles, which riders can incorporate to improve their riding techniques.  The new system found on Indian motorcycles utilizes eight screens for mechanical metrics.  Point blank, supporters assert that infotainment devices are safer than the alternative.  Motorcyclists have fumbled with various music devices, navigation systems, etc. for years.  By condensing these technologies into one system, riders have fewer distractions while on the road.  “When you have these discussions, you always think of rider safety,” Mennetto said.  “But it’s in such demand from customers. And once you get your new toy home, and you’re settled in with how it works, it just gives you a lot more confidence.”