Ford Europe has joined a growing list of car makers seeking to make peace with bike riders.
It has just launched a new model of its top selling Focus with technology that can detect cyclists in or near the road ahead, or who may cross the vehicle’s path.
The technology automatically applies the brakes if it detects a potential collision with a bike rider or pedestrian, and the driver does not respond to warnings.
At the same time, it has embarked on a major program to get car drivers to appreciate the risks they present to people on bikes.
The initiative, called WheelSwap, uses virtual reality technology and enables motorists to see from a cyclist’s point of view how scary it can be when drivers overtake too closely, swerve without indicating and open car doors without checking for bikes.
Another version enables cyclists to experience what it is like for drivers when they jump red lights, cycle down one-way streets the wrong way and swerve unexpectedly.
More than 1,200 people took part in the initial research across five European countries, with 70 per cent of those who experienced ‘WheelSwap’ displaying greater empathy to their driving and cycling counterparts after watching the film, compared with those who had not.
Furthermore, 91 per cent planned to change their on-road habits; and just two weeks after experiencing ‘WheelSwap’, 60 per cent had changed their behaviour on their day-to-day travels.
Ford is now integrating the virtual reality experience into its free driver training program for 17 to 24-year-olds, Ford Driving Skills for Life.
Ford’s CEO in Europe, Steven Armstrong, said WheelSwap enables motorists and cyclists to see how inconsiderate driving and riding can be at the least hair-raising – and potentially fatal – for their fellow road users.
Initial studies show that after undergoing the experience, nearly all participants said they would change their behaviour.
“The safe integration of increasingly diverse modes of transportation is key to how we make our cities safer and easier for everyone to get about in, now and in the future”, he said.
“Our mobility strategy is to deliver a broad suite of products and services that enhance all layers of the transportation system – vehicles, infrastructure, connectivity and digital services – to help people move more freely in the City of Tomorrow.”
Ford has also become involved with bike share programs.