Find a Way to Stand Out on Your Motorcycle
Why automobile drivers may not notice you. New research into why so many car drivers seem not to notice motorcycles on the road suggests that anything you can do to make yourself conspicuous may improve your chances of avoiding accidents. And the emphasis here is on very conspicuous.
In an article published in Human Factors, “Allocating Attention to Detect Motorcycles,” scientists point to the concept of something called “inattentional blindness” as the main culprit behind the phenomenon of motorcycles literally disappearing from motorists’ vision. When a car driver fails to see an object even though it’s clearly in plain sight, that circumstance can lead to “looked-but-failed-to-see” (LBFTS) accidents.
The researchers explain that motorists’ brains are unable to process every bit of the huge amount of information that comes at them while driving. The brain’s solution is to decide which information is most important. Because LBFTS crashes are the most common type of accidents involving motorcycles, scientists say it points to a connection with the way the brain filters out information.
This phenomenon is at work in situations where drivers appear to be looking directly at a motorcycle, yet still pull out into its path, the researchers say.
Research subjects failed to see the motorcycle
In an experiment, adult drivers looked at a series of photos showing typical road situations from the driver’s perspective. They were asked whether the situations showed safe or unsafe driving conditions. In the last photo, the scientists showed an unexpected object, either a motorcycle or a taxi. Nearly half of all participants failed to see the object. Of the half who did detect something different, nearly one-third were less likely to see the taxi, but nearly two-thirds were less likely to see the motorcycle.
So, with a human brain that’s apparently hard-wired to ignore you on your bike, how can you be sure automobile drivers see you, pay attention to you in traffic, and make certain they avoid getting into an accident with you? Here are some time-honored suggestions.
Use color – Make everything colorful. Buy a brightly colored bike. Wear colorful gear, ideally with reflective coatings. Wear a bright helmet. One study demonstrated that bright clothing, and especially a bright helmet, can reduce your odds of being in a crash. Riders with a white helmet were 25 percent less likely to be in an accident than riders wearing a black helmet. Bright helmets in other colors reduced accident likelihood by nearly 20 percent.
Use reflective tape – Not ready to buy a new bike or new gear to increase visibility? Use reflective tape on front, back and sides to turn a neutral bike and dark gear into objects that can’t easily be missed, particularly at night.
Tap the brakes – A technique used by many riders when they sense they’re being followed too closely by a car. Tap the brakes just enough to activate your brake lights. If a driver is paying attention, they should get the message.
Use your lights – Some motorcyclists use their high beam during daylight hours when it’s unlikely to be too bright for oncoming drivers. Research also shows that running lights help oncoming drivers with better depth perception to make it easier for them to estimate the speed of your bike. Headlight modulators for motorcycles have been added to the federal motor vehicle safety standards. These devices vary the intensity of your headlight between 17 and 70 percent, 240 times a minute, creating a strobe effect that automobile drivers can’t miss.
Making yourself more visible to other drivers can keep you safer and let you relax and enjoy the ride.