Thursday, November 15, 2012

Why motorists don't see you

Far too often, following a collision between an automobile and a bicycle (or motorcycle), the motorist laments, "I didn't even see him!"

Such a tragedy may be caused because the motorist isn't paying attention to his primary responsibility.  It's called inattentive driving... it's against the law, but rarely does the inattentive driver get cited.  Now more than ever, motorists make the deliberate decision to distract themselves with their electronic gadgets, lunch, cool car gizmos, etc.

However, even when the motorist is paying attention, it's far too easy for a small "target" like a bike rider or motorcycle rider to be overlooked.

Clancy sent me this very interesting article.  John Sullivan is a Royal Air Force pilot, a cyclist, and a crash investigator.  He points out some interesting things about human vision.

1) To see detail, we have to be looking directly at something.  "A mere 20 degrees away from your sightline, your visual acuity is about 1/10th of what it is at the centre."

2) When you move your head and/or eyes to scan a scene, your eyes don't move smoothly... they move in a series of quick jumps, and only when they briefly pause, is an image processed and sent to the brain.

Try it for yourself!  The article provides some experiments that will confirm his findings.

The author also provides these tips for the bicyclist/motorcyclist to be seen, and to survive:

1) Recognize the risk.  "High contrast clothing and lights help. In particular, flashing LED’s (front and rear) are especially effective for cyclists as they create contrast and the on-off flashing attracts the peripheral vision in the same manner that movement does. There’s nothing wrong with leaving these on during the day."

2) At intersections, look at the head of the driver that is approaching or has stopped. The head of the driver will naturally stop and centre upon you if you have been seen. If the driver’s head sweeps through you without pausing, assume that you have not been seen and expect the driver to pull out!

3) Recognize that a low sun, or a dirty or rain-covered window will decrease driver visibility even further.

4) Ride in a position farther out from the curb, because the driver is more likely to look directly at that location.


Marcus said...

Cool article. I forwarded it to my constituents.

Kirk said...

On Number 4 I am reminded of a bicycling podcast that I used to listen to. He signed it off with "Claim the Lane". Because here in California, the bicyclist is entitled to the entire lane especially if there are obstructions, or the cyclist feels the lane is not big enough for a car and himself.