Verge visits Ford’s Share the Road Debate

Ford’s Share the Road event this morning explored the cyclist vs. motorist debate, and solutions to solve the issues that come with cyclists and cars sharing a limited amount of space on the roads.

“Everyone has a right to use the space that’s available,” said Steven Armstrong, the president and CEO of Ford Motor Company of Europe, Middle East and Africa. “Both parties have a role to play in staying safe.”

Armstrong emphasized the importance of empathy and understanding between cyclists and motorists, and discussed how Ford is working to create safer shared roads in Europe.

Ford’s new initiative is based on how there are increased numbers of people cycling, which helps to improve air quality and congestion, but there is tension between cyclists and motorists that can cause unsafe behavior and fatalities.

Part of the initiative involves a virtual reality experience called “WheelSwap,” which was designed to make people aware of how your actions affect other people’s road use.

The experience, which felt surprisingly realistic, gives users a view of the road from either a cyclist or a motorist’s perspective. During the cyclist’s perspective, car doors open unexpectedly, drivers swerve into other lanes without indicating. In the motorist’s perspective, cyclists bike down one-way streets the wrong way, go through red lights without stopping, and swerve unexpectedly.

The event also included a panel discussion called “why sharing the road matters now, more than ever.”

“We can change the way we think of other road users,” said, Dr. David Purves, principle and Clinical Director of the Berkshire Psychology Service, who treats drivers and cyclists who have had traumatic crash experiences. “The ‘WheelSwap’ virtual reality experiment is a good example of this as it shows the other side of the argument.”

When Ford first tested the virtual reality experience, 70 percent of participants said that they would show greater empathy to others on the road after watching the film, and two weeks after the experience, 60 percent said they had changed their day-to-day traveling behaviors, according to Ford.

“We need to make everyone feel comfortable sharing the finite space on the roads,” Armstrong said.