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[Article] Why you don't see motorcycles on the roads

Discussion in 'Research, Studies, and Data' started by robsalvv, May 20, 2016.

  1. This article seems to be doing the rounds again.

    = = =

    Why You Don't 'See' Motorcycles on the Road

    Why You Don't 'See' Motorcycles on the Road
    As illustrated by the SUV driver who nearly ran me over.

    By Jack Baruth
    Feb 26, 2016

    The late-model Ford Escape and I arrived at the intersection in my neighborhood at about the same time. I recognized the driver, a nice guy whose kids play with mine. I brought my Honda CB1100 to a stop and waited. So did he. Which was unusual, because he didn't have a stop sign. No, wait—he's stopped to talk to another one of our neighbors. I gave him about 30 seconds to change his mind and go forward. When he gave no sign of ending his conversation, I let the clutch out and started crossing the intersection.

    Naturally, about half a second later, my neighbor started driving forward, still looking back at the person to whom he'd been speaking. I beeped the horn and twisted the throttle at the same time. He came to a sheepish halt about where my right leg would have been had I not accelerated out of the way and waved apologetically.

    Think about that for a minute. Although my neighbor hadn't looked ahead for more than half a minute, he naturally assumed that the road ahead of him was clear. Sounds crazy, right? In fact, his behavior was less crazy than it might sound, and chances are that we've all done the same thing ourselves, for reasons that are both inherently biological and completely normal.

    If you could see a raw feed of the image sent to your brain by your eye at any given time, you'd be horrified.

    The first thing to understand is that our eyes don't see very much. We tend to think of eyes as cameras, but in reality they are biological devices with considerable limitations. If you could see a raw feed of the image sent to your brain by your eye at any given time, you'd be horrified. It's mostly blurry, it has a blind spot near the middle, and it's upside down.

    Luckily for us, our eyes are constantly in motion, even when we think we are looking straight ahead. They send several pictures every second to the brain, which then assembles the best and sharpest parts from each picture into a mental image. That's what we see. When you read the print on this page or screen, your eyes are flicking all over that page or screen, assembling a complete picture that you can then read.

    Think of an old-school radar screen. There's a bright green line that tells you what the radar is seeing at that very moment, and it sweeps in a circle, continually refreshing the screen. Compared with the human eye, the line is the small area it can focus and see at any given time, and the whole screen is the image we have in our minds.

    The human eye isn't really that great when compared to other outstanding eyes in the animal kingdom, such as the ones attached to eagles, some grazing animals, and (wait for it) sharks. But when it's combined with the human brain as an evolved system for hunting deer and the like, it's not bad. The problems start when things happen faster than the eye-brain system can "see." Since the eye is only looking at a very small area at any given time, it's possible that an alien or hugely advanced predator of some type, could actually hide in plain sight by moving quickly enough to avoid the eyeball's motion. (This is part of the plot of Blindsight by Peter Watts, a great book that I can't recommend enough to all of you.)

    Luckily for us, the eyeball-tracking aliens haven't arrived—or they have arrived, and they are simply content to sit around and harmlessly make fun of us for being so blind. I can't say for sure, because I wouldn't be able to see them. But there are things that move quickly enough, and are small enough, that we don't necessarily "see" them even when they are right in front of us.

    As you might guess, motorcycles fall into that category of things that we don't always perceive even if they are right in our field of vision. A motorcycle approaching head-on from a distance occupies a very small part of a driver's vision. If it's going quickly, it's possible that the eye simply won't get around to looking at it enough to make it "stick" in the brain before it arrives in the driver's immediate vicinity. That part is important because the brain can really only see things that it understands.

    Your brain has a sort of visual shorthand for objects. For instance, chances are that you aren't really seeing everything around you right now, especially if you are in a familiar environment. You're just seeing the shortcuts that your brain is placing there to conserve processing power and attention. That's why people become fatigued more easily in foreign countries or really unfamiliar terrain; their brain is working overtime trying to account for all the things that it doesn't normally see. For this same reason, if you don't expect to see a motorcycle or pedestrian during a certain part of your morning commute, your brain will often ignore a motorcycle or pedestrian right in front of you, particularly if they aren't moving sideways across your field of vision.

    Alright. Let's take a typical case. A driver is preparing to turn left from a side road onto a main road. There's a GSXR-1000 flying down that main road because what's the point of having something that fast if you don't wind it out, right? So our driver looks left and doesn't see the Gixxer because it's pretty far away. He looks right. Now he looks left again. The bike is much closer, almost on him, but because he didn't see it last time—and this is important—his brain simply discards the Gixxer as a result of his brain not expecting to see it. His brain is already busy doing this discarding for everything from his blind spot to various floaters in his vision to his own eyelashes. What's the harm in adding just one more object?

    So the driver pulls out and BAM it's a GSXR-1000 in the door and at least one person who will wind up either dead or crippled. And the driver will tell the cop, "I didn't see him." And the cop will chalk it up to the Suzuki simply moving too quickly or to the driver being inattentive. But there truly is that third possibility: The driver looked right at the Suzuki but failed to truly "see" him.

    This sort of thing happens with bicycles and pedestrians as well, of course, but it doesn't happen nearly as often because bikes and people tend to move slowly compared to a motorcycle. It happens even more often when people are stressed or frightened, because these emotions tend to freeze up the muscles, including the muscles of the eyes. When that happens, you get tunnel vision, which is simply the eye refusing to do its normal tracking deal and the brain helpfully filling in all the areas away from the eye's fixed center focus with plain black.

    Tunnel vision is why I work very hard to keep my novice trackday students from being next to another car on track. They literally won't see the car next to them because their eyes won't move enough to pick up that visual information and add it to their visual map. The same is true, of course, for people who are learning how to drive on the street for the first time. The field of vision for those drivers is very small.

    So, let's go back to my neighbor. He hadn't looked forward in more than 30 seconds, but his brain was telling him that nothing was likely to change. Sure, it had been a while since he looked forward, but he probably wasn't consciously aware of just how long it had been. He might have even thought that he had looked forward prior to driving forward, because his mental map of the intersection was so strong. Of course, the information was outdated, and there was 800 pounds of motorcycle and rider directly in front of him. But it's okay. I expect stuff like that to happen, and as a result I still have both of my legs. Woo-hoo!

    Make an effort to look around, even at things that don't seem important.

    Can we improve the way we see on the road (and track) just by understanding our vision better? Yes, we can. Make an effort to look around, even at things that don't seem important like the side of the road or, if you're an SUV driver, your rear-view mirror. The more you consciously look around while driving, the better and more varied the visual information your brain receives will be, which will lead to a much higher-quality mental picture.

    In short, you'll learn how to see things that are invisible to you right now. That's like a super power, right? So use it for good, and not evil. Unless you're a club racer. In which case you should absolutely use it for evil. I certainly do. But no matter how you use your new super power, do me a favor and look out for the old guy on the big black Honda bike, okay? Especially if you're my neighbor.
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  2. yep, so what the author is saying is that many car drivers lack focus and attention, they are also witless and careless and oblivious to what is around them whilst in charge of a two tonne vehicle.

    key point is that is up to riders to ensure they are observant and aware because the guy driving the truck will just get out and say smidsy as you are lying on the road waiting for the ambulance to rush you to hospital for surgery.
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  3. #3 robsalvv, May 20, 2016
    Last edited: May 20, 2016
    Yep. In a nutshell.

    We know that drivers who have a motorcyclist in the family or are themselves one, tend to see bikes on the roads. Unfortunately we don't know whether it's a bike aware driver or not behind the wheel, so just assume the emerging vehicle hasn't seen you and plan an evasive strategy to manage the hazard.
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  4. #4 chilliman64, May 20, 2016
    Last edited: May 23, 2016
    did Keith Code say something like 'presume every driver is either blind, drunk or stupid'? I think he was on the money.

    edit: no I misquoted a quote by Peter Fonda in a training video, he said treat all drivers as if they are “asleep, blind or drunk”.
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  5. Whole treasure trove of subjects here.
    The human eye has evolved for a variety of survival situations. One is to identify threats (predators and other dangers).
    And not only the eye, but also the neural pathways between the eye and the cognitive function.
    For example, men are generally better at seeing - and reacting to - movement, whereas women are much better at perceiving - and reacting to - colour.
    One theory (not mine necessarily) is that out hunting, the males needed to notice the sabre tooth sneaking through the grass toward them. Women needed to identify poisonous nuts and berries from nutritious ones.
    What works for one person may not always work for another.

    Here's a photo of a human retina (the 'sensor' at the back of the eye):
    It's impossible to have sharp, clear vision of more than one small area at a time, but it is possible to spread your 'awareness' into the low res background areas.
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  6. Yup! ...and, to certain extent, that is the problem.

    The car driver, waiting at a T-junction to pull out onto a main road can see lots of stuff, but he/she is more likely to take serious notice of the B-double bearing down, since it is a SERIOUS threat...... the wee motorbike.....no threat, can be ignored. :(
  7. I suspect there is truth in the last sentiment, but it would have to relate to a callous minority as it implies that the driver sees the bike and consciously ignores it as it is not seen as a threat. That's actually a bit dumb of the driver, because whether a threat or not, a collision is going to put a large dent in their day.

    I think what's more likely happening is that where the pixels representing a bike make it through to the brain, it is the brain that doesn't perceive the bike as a threat or something to account for, and the brain then consciously ignores it. The driver literally doesn't see the bike despite it being there in plain daylight.

    Another cognitive failing is when the driver is cognitively engaged, the brain fails to recognise small changes in the visual scene. A motorcycle tends to be a small change in the visual seen. Again, the driver literally doesn't see the bike.

    And there are other physiological possibilities too.

    That's why the hi viz argument is bogus - but whatevs on that... I think I've done my apprenticeship on that topic.
  8. And it would probably help if gear manufacturers and bike manufacturers stopped doing this sort of idiocy. WP_20160520_17_24_09_Pro.
  9. Has anyone noticed that non-motorcyclists do not scan ahead. I honestly believe motorcyclists look further up the road, make earlier judgements, and are better drivers.

    It is a learned behavior but i am not convinced it's taught enough to car drivers.

    As one looking at purchasing the next GSXR in order to meet the names I'm becoming familiar with i want too happy the author choose this bike as the example :)
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  10. Indeed. Unfortunately one of the draw backs to safety mechanisms in cars (crumple zones, airbags, etc) - is that drivers feel as though there is safety should they make a mistake.

    Tell a person that their panels have been lined with explosives, and should they hit anything with the front of their car the explosives will go off - and their driving behaviour would change dramatically.

    Effectively this is one of the main differences between riders and drivers. Riders know if they make a mistake - it's going to hurt them! Drivers on the other hand can make mistakes and there's a good chance they will still not get hurt - even though that same mistake could hurt or kill someone else... it's called apathy and unfortunately it affects road users in a large way.

    I'm double minded on the new auto-braking technology too. I understand that it will prevent accidents, but fear it will also make people pay even less attention again because they know there's yet another safety mechanism to back them up. What is intended for accidents will likely encourage lazier drivers.

    Sadly us humans seem to be great at undermining the same technology that's supposed to make us safer.
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  11. Yep, plenty of studies confirm this.

    motorcycle riders make better drivers - Google Search

    Motorcyclists '23% better' behind the wheel of a car

    Why Riding A Motorbike Makes You A Better Driver

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  12. Sorry, Rob, I didn't mean it like that.

    I think that while a driver can "see" a motorbike in terms of pixels or whatever in the eyes, the driver's brain can sort of "edit it out" as not a significant threat.
  13. That's the difference between visual acuity and visual perception. Acuity is how much detail the eye is capable of resolving. Perception is how the brain edits the incoming signals to build an image. The beautiful clear image that we "see" is not anything like what the eye actually detects. For a start the image from the eye is inverted. The brain devotes a vast amount of capacity to image processing, automatically turning everything the right way up and creating the image that we percieve from a massive number of small jigsaw pieces. Consequently we have evolved a number of shortcuts to make the process more efficient. One of these is the brains tendency to maintain an image and only update the bits that change. When new data is coming in the brain tends to scan first for patterns that it recognises and for movement. If it doesn't pick those up it may simply assume that nothing has changed and the few pixels that represent the oncoming bike simply get ignored. It does have some relevance to threat recognition, in that we tend to be very highly tuned to recognising shapes that we regard as dangerous. If you're scared of sharks you may see them where they aren't there. If you're religious you may see the face of Jesus in your vegemite toast, because the image is important to you and also because we are hard wired to recognise faces. Eyes and imitation eyes are widely used in nature too, you see them on fish fins, butterfly wings and all sorts of animals to get predators to attack a sacrificial area rather than the critical head, and also to startle a predator by giving the impression of a much larger creature suddenly appearing. The little butterfly opens it's wings and BOO the bird is presented with a dirty great set of owl eyes. I personally find bikes with twin headlights easier to pick out of the clutter than single headlights, and this may relate to an innate tendency to look for facial features in incoming visual data rather than there being more light.
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  14. #14 Nightowl, May 23, 2016
    Last edited: May 23, 2016
    Skills versus instinct. Skills are taught, instinct is innate. The above is of skills, not instinct, that are taught according to a particular cultural paradigm (the above a modern patriarchal overlay on the past, men also hunted for berries, seasonal dictates etc)

    Just to expand on this a little.

    Kids aren’t colour coded. Consider how many mothers responsible for the primary care of toddlers have all-seeing eyes, peripheral vision quick to detect a toddler about to make a break for it, can hear through walls etc. Protective instincts attuned to threat detection. Dad’s have them too, but in this type of set-up where mum’s the prime care giver and parents are working together as a mutually respectful team, women are attuned to smaller threats leaving dad’s free to manage the larger threats. That becomes cultural conditioning.

    When survival’s at stake both the little and big things count – from the redback in the loo to the truck up your tailpipe.

    Generally they do. It’s very noticeable if you’ve had the benefit of teaching/mentoring both. Take an L or P-plate rider and transition to a car and it’s very noticeable how far their vision extends to checking for threats on approach to a round-about etc versus a P-plate driver who’s not had the benefit of riding.

    8 drivers who blindly followed their GPS into disaster

    People are still driving into lakes because their GPS tells them to
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  15. Yep car drivers just do not see a motorcyclist even when they are looking straight at them. Some do not even see two motorcyclists (myself and OH) !!!! Happens numerous times....sad fact of riding a motorbike...
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  16. Actually there is a MUARC simulator study that shows that experienced motorcyclists anticipated hazards up to four seconds ahead of experienced drivers, whilst novice riders anticipated up to 1.x seconds ahead of drivers. or some such... but the point is, there is a study that confirms your hypothesis.
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  17. To clarify (I'm getting this from behavioural optometrists BTW, which some regard as an arcane field) the driver does not 'dismiss' the image of the rider - it just doesn't get 'flagged' for attention. Generally, you are always looking at something in particular. If the rider appears on the periphery, and is not 'flagged', then no brain processing is made available for it, either on a conscious or subconscious level.
    Riders sometimes use the term 'spidey senses' for this flagging of something requiring our attention. It happens below the level of conscious awareness. It's something we acquire with experience of close calls and such.

    As Nightowl points out, it happens in other fields of experience too.

    I recognise the point about cultural conditioning, and the role assignation is not mine. However it's also true that women have more than twice as many colour receptors in the retina than men. That's just physiology, not conditioning. Clinical studies have shown than human males do pick up movement a little earlier than women, but only across a large sample size. I guess the main point should be that people in general do not see in exactly the same way as each other, even within gender.
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  18. Just expanding a little on what titustitus said about the brain flagging or ignoring things at a subconscious level. It happens across a wide range of activities too. A mate of mine used to run a climbing gym. I was talking to him while I had a break and I could see that he was distracted. He just couldn't look away from the wall, he clearly knew something was wrong, but he couldn't quite pick what. Then he took off across the room like an Olympic hurdler, clearing three rows of seats in about three strides. I've never seen someone get into a harness and get a belayer that fast. He was off up the wall and had the climber clipped into his own harness before you could say "What the ?"

    He probably saved a life that day and what his brain had flagged at a subconscious level was that there was a climber climbing and the rope was going up just slightly faster than the climber. So a very subtle clue about 15m away, that was only visible at all due to the pattern on the rope. It caught enough of his attention that he was watching when the back up carabiner appeared from behind the climbers head and he knew instantly that the guy had neither tied in nor clipped in. The climber was 5 m off the deck by that stage and only three metres from the top of the wall where he would in all probability have let go and trusted the rope and his belayer to lower him off. He would have had a very nasty surprise. A couple of decades of instructing and supervising climbers and his spidey sense was acutely developed. Almost anyone else would have missed that subtle visual cue and the first they would have known about it would have been the thud. His brain picked that detail up despite the distraction of me buying a drink and chatting to him. Despite the twenty or so other climbers all on the wall, climbing, falling off or swinging around. Despite the background chatter and activity, his brain still found that small detail and tapped him on the mental shoulder and said, "You might want to take a closer look at that." The fact that he always had his harness handy hanging under the counter with a rescue sling and carabiner in place and knew exactly what to do made a difference too. Observation, situational awareness, preparation, planning and decisive action prevented an accident.

    Call it spidey sense, call it intuition, call it instinct, whatever you call it, trust it and when your brain tells you that something is not quite right, it's worth listening to it and having a long hard look at the situation. On the bike, getting on the brakes and burning off some speed and getting some more room around you as soon as you get that slightly uneasy feeling will give you more time to work out exactly what it is that your brain is trying to make you aware of. Ride when you're in a rush, cranky, distracted, even slightly effected by alcohol or just afraid of looking timid and you have a tendency to over-ride that feeling and sooner or later it won't end well.

    NB: I'm talking about the brain responding subconsciously to small clues that something isn't right in terms of traffic and situational awareness. The fact that your brain can get really good at this with experience, doesn't alter the fact that we still have to try and overcome it's innate tendencies to do the wrong thing with respect to bike control. That's a whole different set of "survival reactions" again.
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  19. According to a book I read by Alan Pease, female human brains have way more connective tissue between the two brain hemispheres than male human brains - and that was put down to evolutionary drivers and also explained why women GENERALLY can talk and listen at the same time, whereas men GENERALLY can't.

    Some years ago, I was seeing a girl whose immediate family had no males. Dinner at her place was a bamboozling noise fest between her and her sisters, her mother and grandmother. I often couldn't keep up, especially when they were all talking to each other in parallel on multiple topics with messages sent and received before I had half of one decoded and tonal intonation indicating a change of one topic to the next. lol Definitely the mere male on that table.

    In today's society, the way we live is often at odds with the past evolutionary drivers - however we are hard wired in certain ways because of that past - which isn't to say that we can't accommodate or rise above that wiring, but it does give rise to some general identifiable differences and characteristics between the sexes.

    Interesting tangent.
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  20. Fatbastard,

    People who work in environments where there is a lot going on and have a responsibility for the safety and well being of the people in their care, get very good at picking the subtile things that are not right, then acting swiftly, with certainty to avert some disaster.

    When they start doing that sort of work, they often feel like there is too much going on and experience a certain amount of "overload" not unlike that experienced by new riders, out on public roads for the first while. It can be stressful. They go slow. Learning time and experience allows them to learn the little cues which suggest that all is not right. A little coaching can be very helpful to shorten the time it takes to get comfortable with the scene. A lot of it is about reading ahead, and anticipating, focusing on things briefly which may become a real concern, but not investing too much time or attention in it so as to avoid tunnel vision. There is a lot of attention shift, to recheck, prioritising, and decision making going on. It never stops.

    To the uninitiated, it seems like they have a 6th sense. No, they just habitually pick up the details of things starting to, or with the potential to go pear shaped, often long before the participants are aware that there is anything amiss. These can be a sound, as well as a sight. With machinery, it might be a smell. It's also about ignoring things which are of no consequence. These people often can appear to not be paying attention. Good ones are, always, whether it looks like it or not.

    Some outstanding examples of this are found in Outdoor Education, Ski Lift, or Amusement Ride Operation, Motorcycle Riding - in competition especially, Competitive BMX, Timber work, Farm work, Almost any kind of heavy machine operation, just to name a few.
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