INTERVIEW - Ford Europe boss promotes safe cycling

By Chris Wright | 25 May 2018

Car company boss watches out for bicycles: FoEs Steven Armstrong is a keen cyclist himself and understands cyclist needs

Car company boss watches out for bicycles: FoE's Steven Armstrong is a keen cyclist himself and understands cyclist needs

Steven Armstrong might be a car company chief but he thinks nothing of riding his bike for 300kms or 400kms around Europe or 1,000kms over the Andes in South America.

So, the Ford of Europe boss is happy to throw his weight and experience behind his company's 'Share the Road' initiative aimed at making vehicle drivers and cyclists kinder to each other.

As increasing numbers of people get on their bikes, flashpoints between drivers and cyclists are an all-too frequent sight in Europe's cities. And while infrastructure that keeps different road users apart struggles to keep pace, Ford's campaign is designed to help improve safety and reduce pollution and congestion, by fostering harmony between road users. It underlines the company's belief that enabling more people to cycle safely, especially for short journeys, benefits everyone.

"We are building stronger links with the cycling community."

Why get involved? Armstrong told just-auto: "Share the Road is all part of Ford's mobility initiative and we are building stronger links with the cycling community, we already have bike-share programme with partners in Germany and the US. Our aim is to get vehicle drivers and cyclists to better understand each other and to share the road responsibly."

Armstrong regularly cycles to work in Cologne and invariably covers 150kms over the weekend on two wheels. He is competitive as well, taking part in Sportif events covering several hundreds of kilometres. During his four and a half years with Ford in South America, he cycled 1,000kms across the Andes.

He said: "Cycling takes me out of the work environment and gives me time with friends. Over the years I have been involved in one or two incidents, thankfully not serious, so I am happy to get involved in this initiative."

To this end, Ford has produced a ground-breaking virtual reality experience. 'Wheel Swap' 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.Armstrong, who is president and chief executive Ford of Europe, Middle East and Africa, said: "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."

In Europe there are 250m cyclists and those on two wheels account for one in 12 of all road accident fatalities. With proven benefits to health, air quality and congestion, many cities are actively promoting cycling.

As part of the Share the Road campaign, Ford enlisted the help of behavioural scientists to develop Wheel Swap, a virtual reality interaction that 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.

Ford's 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.

This includes pilot schemes such as a car sharing and bikesharing collaboration between Ford of Germany and Deutsche Bahn Connect; the Chariot commuter shuttle services designed for city dwellers who live inharder-to-serve areas where public transport is not easily accessible; ands mart benches that help pedestrians stay connected on the move with mobile charging and Wi-Fi.

Ford is now integrating the virtual reality experience into its free drivertraining programme for 17 to 24-year-olds, Ford Driving Skills for Life. Nearly$20m has been committed to Ford Driving Skills for Life in Europe through the programme since 2013 for free, hands-on classes that also cover hazard recognition, vehicle handling, and speed and space management.

The company is also making the 'Wheel Swap' experiences available on YouTube along with useful tips for how to stay safe on the road.

Behavioural scientist Dan Berry who helped devise the experiment, said: "There is no more effective means of appreciating someone else's point ofview than stepping into their shoes, or in this case, on to their pedals. Empathy is an immensely powerful emotion."

More than 1,200 people took part in the initial research across five European countries, with 70% of those who experienced 'Wheel Swap' displaying greater empathy to their driving and cycling counterparts after watching the film, compared with those who had not. Furthermore, 91% planned to change their on road habits; and just two weeks after experiencing 'Wheel Swap', 60% had changed their behaviour on their day-to-day travels.

Armstrong added: "Last month, we launched the all new Ford Focus with technology that can detect cyclists in or near the road ahead, or who may cross the vehicle's path. Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection automatically applies the brakes if it detects a potential collision and the driver does not respond to warnings.

"However it will be some years before this technology is available on all vehicles – cars and bikes. Share the Road is an initiative for now to help make roads safer."