It’s amazing how many drivers out there can tell stories of instances where they were completely blindsided by a nearby motorbike. And the statistics back up the anecdotes.
According to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, motorcyclists accounted for 14 per cent of the total highway fatalities in the country, despite motorcycle registrations representing only three per cent of all vehicles in the United States in 2013.
As more and more New Yorkers join the more than half-a-million licensed motorcyclists in the state, one Rochester man says he has a solution to help keep riders more safe on the roads.
(Video after the jump.)
David Werner had one of those near-misses as he was driving behind a motorcyclist years ago. He now owns a company called Third Eye Design and is the inventor of HelSTAR, a wireless brake and turn signal light for motorcycle helmets, designed to increase visibility and save lives.
It works like this: a rider installs a small transmitter on the motorcycle, attaches the light to the back of the helmet, and using low power radio frequency the two wirelessly connect. HelSTAR does not require a switch, so you don’t have to remember to turn the device on or off.
“We wanted to give motorists that are interacting with them on the road something that’s line of sight, something that they’re used to seeing, to let them know what a motorcyclist is doing - turning or braking,” says Werner.
Werner and engineer David Zima obtained a patent for HelSTAR, which combines 21 different technologies. The two work alongside a team of professionals with expertise in operations and distribution. But despite the manpower, investment dollars have been sporadic.
“It was $10,000 at a time, $5000, $35,000, and eventually a quarter of a million dollars later we were coming to the end of our ability to continue to support it. Some guys who had been following us, a couple of years ago stepped up and said, ‘We’d really like you to pick the pace up.’”
“If I knew how much money I would have invested in this before I started, I probably wouldn’t have done it,” Werner adds.
After securing that investment money, and conducting in-depth national market research, they created 50 HelSTAR devices for pilot participants across the country. The unit retails for $149.
The rave reviews indicate that it’s time to make more.
“Down to the last pilot participant, they said please don’t make me give it back. I don’t want to ride without it,” adds Werner.
Other applications for technology
This is just the first version of HelSTAR. The second version will be built into a helmet. The integrated unit will use black box technology and an accelerometer to detect helmet damage.
“We can let the owner of the helmet know that the helmet’s been potentially compromised and we can store and record that information for the helmet manufacturer, who can retrieve it from the black box in the event the person was injured in an accident,” says Werner.
Motorcyclists are 30 times more likely than occupants of cars to die in a crash and five times more likely to be injured.
“Hopefully in the years to come as more technologies advance and there’s an interest to keep everybody safe, I think that’s going to be best for everybody and we can keep these numbers down,” says Lori Maher of the New York State Department of Transportation.
The Third Eye Design team is in the process of obtaining a second patent on a concussive injury helmet that would utilize the same technology. Werner says this helmet will help medical professionals more accurately pinpoint the type of injury an athlete sustained, the level of impact, and better treat the condition.
May is Motorcycle Safety and Awareness Month.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the goal of the nationwide event is to remind all motorists to safely share the road with motorcyclists. And as more bikes are on the roads with the onset of warmer weather, motorcyclists are also reminded to make themselves visible to other drivers.
“There’s already enough things that are out of your control: animals jump out in the road, there’s other people that you can’t control their behaviors, or their condition of impairment, but if you can take responsibility for the vehicle you’re driving, then you should have a nice, safe trip,” says Maher.
Werner and his team are currently raising more investment funds in order to produce more HelSTAR devices at the end of the summer.