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Inattentional Blindness
Psychology behind looked-but-failed-to-see crashes “explained” in study
A natural failure in the way our brain processes information might be to blame for a large number of motorcycle-related traffic accidents, according to a recent study.

Human Factors published research from Allocating Attention to Detect Motorcycles: The Role of Inattentional Blindness in early January. The study, carried out by professors at the Australian National University, examined the mindset behind those responsible for looked-but-failed-to-see crashes. In this particular case, where a driver sees a motorcycle coming in its path, but fails to register it in time. It is the most common cause of collisions between cars and bikes.

The study examined the responses of 56 adults when looking at a series of driving-related photographs. The images were of a repeated road scene from a driver's perspective. In some of them, the road was clear. In others, a taxi might be in the driver's path. In others, a motorcycle. The test was to see how quickly participants picked up on the presence of other vehicles.

Unsurprisingly, they were twice more likely to fail to notice a motorcycle (65%) than a taxi (35%). Though 48% didn't notice any object at all when it was added to the picture. Because motorcycles are less common on the roads, the study claimed, drivers don't expect to see them and are therefore naturally less likely to register their presence.

The study concluded that changing driver's expectations would reduce the number of accidents. Motorcycle awareness training was suggested as the solution.

The idea that drivers should be trained to be more aware of bikes is not a new one. Schemes such as the government's THINK! have been in place for some time now. What is interesting, though, is the stance the study takes on why drivers are not motorcycle-aware. The notion that a person's limited capability to process information is to blame for crashes rather than a person's lack of attentiveness. Accepting that it as a natural human flaw takes the responsibility and the blame away from the individual.

"We can't attend to everything", the study says, "because this would consume enormous cognitive resources and take too much time". But isn't attentiveness a basic requirement for all road users? Is a driver who fails to "see" a motorcycle that's right in front of them inattentively blind, or are they just being plain careless? We would love to know what you think.


20/02/18 - Making eye contact with the driver can help, can also give a clue to their intentions  of course some drivers will look at you and still pull out, sometimes a genuine mistake but increasingly with contempt, arrogance from a particular type of road user - you know the ones!

20/02/18 - 48% failed to notice any object that was placed in their line vision! maybe the drivers test is too easy? Driving a car is now seen as a natural right and not a skill to be achieved - and that should include an acceptance of the notion that not every one can achieve that level of skill. The way we are going with 'driverless' cars assumes that everyone should be able to use a car.

Having said that, in certain circumstances the thickness of front sloping pillars of modern cars do make it possible to miss slim moving objects (bikers and cyclists) if they are approaching at the exact 45degree 'wrong' angle as the vehicle enters a junction - but that's not a an explanation for the vast majority of these crashes.

20/01/18 - I had similar, keep focused on your recovery. I'll never completely recover but it's not the end of the world, I'm 90%. For me it was nothing more than a n honest mistake from an inexperienced driver (I believe he looked into the empty road behind me), all drivers (and riders) make mistakes, so I don't hold any ill feeling towards him. I view it as the lesson he learned hitting me likely made him a better driver and possibly saved someone's life further down the line.

20/01/18 - The roads in Britain have become so much more volatile recently, with respect for other users at an all time low! People seem to be so impatient now that they will risk an accident for the sake of saving 4 seconds off their journey!

19/01/18 - Im sure drivers look & half expect a car coming, but when they see a bike, they dont expect that & think it cant possibly be one, il just pull out anyway

19/01/18 - Impatient and in contempt of human life, people look you in the eyes as they pull out on you! And don’t get me started on the amount of crap obscuring some drivers vision ‘sat nav taking up pride of place in the windscreen anyone!’

18/01/18 - Careless driving

18/01/18 - The then 68 year old guy who pulled out on me was looking at me eye to eye when he did it. I have no idea why he didn't see me everyone else did. I always thought that it was drivers not checking past door pillars that couldn't see.

18/01/18 - Expect everyone on the road to be a b*ll *nds!! And do you damnedest to stay away from them!

18/01/18 - It's worse when they see you after they start to pull out and decide to stop right in the middle of the road. Last time that happened to me there was just enough room to get round the back of him, and me praying to god he doesn't decide to reverse

18/01/18 - We know that the brain fills in a large amount of what we think it sees and for this reason people need to not "glance" at a junction but "Look Properly" at a scene before making a move. At a busy junction we look left then right then left and because of all the traffic we end up glancing in order to get out into that clear spot between vehicles and that's the trouble, that spot wasn't clear there was a motorcyclist, child, elderly person or animal etc on the road. Most people are horrified when the cause a crash so "LOOK" "DON'T" "GLANCE".

18/01/18 - Last year suffered this,7 months on still recovering.Got witness police did nothing.No doubt they would of if I'd been killed. Hitting a tractor at 40 mph is like hitting a brick wall,I thought it was all over.Be riding again soon though.

18/01/18 - Stupidity should cover it and anybody in the stupidity category should never use any kind of wheeled transport

18/01/18 - I ride in the middle of my side of the road headlights on and still cars etc pull out on you . And what do you get from them sorry did not see you

18/01/18 - I treat everyone on the road like an idiot and think for them ,watch the wheels on cars exiting side roads, If they start moving they ain't seen me, coming off at a motorway junction watching for cars making a last second Lane change .etc etc

18/01/18 - F*cking blind f*cks

18/01/18 - Google saccadic masking. It’s eye opening. People need to be taught to look and look again.

18/01/18 - For me circumstances has a part to play. Rush hour gaps are small and drivers sometimes respond out of frustration. Throw conditions in to the mix such as dark nights and low sun. I think the main problem is they fail to look for you. Drivers look for larger vehicles that fill their view. Before the eyes have focused on smaller traffic they've looked away and pulled out. It's a 50-50 responsibility. If you ride like a moron and drivers drive blind it's a recipe for a trip to A+E.

18/01/18 - I read that it’s subconsciously harder to assess approaching speed with a single headlight.

17/01/18 - Way back when I took my lessons, the instructor warned me that cars pulling out, always focus on the larger vehicles, so if a car, lorry or bus is behind you, be prepared to stop. It's not right, but it's how I was trained.

17/01/18 - I drive a truck as well as bikes, I get people pulling out in front of the truck as much as my bike, it's 12 foot tall with 8 day lights on the front, Vehicles are driven by people, people make mistakes, I've never driven my lorry or bike into someone pulling out because I expect them to do it and I'm prepared to stop. Of course, its not always possible but road positioning covering brakes having an escape route in your head all help

17/01/18 - Driving standards, in general, are much poorer than they were years ago, when I started driving in the 70s you never saw anyone blatantly go through a red light, now it a very common thing to see. Manage

17/01/18 - Selfish, self centered generation who have been spoilt. Not just bikes, I've had them pull out on my Range Rover!! 2 1/5 ton of metal!! They drive up with no intention of stopping! I ride with the attitude that every other road user (including other bikers) are of poor ability. Often I'm unfortunately proved correct!

17/01/18 - I was walking to work this morning (I have an MT07) and was halfway across a zebra crossing & the car just went straight over. There is no way he didn't see me. They just don't care.

17/01/18 - People are self-absorbed and do not see objective reality but a reality their ego lays on it as it sees fit. I can walk around my living room looking for the TV remote and it will take quite a while for me to find it even though it is in plain sight if it is simply sitting somewhere I do not remember putting it. The average jack-*ss driving around in his automobile is thinking of nothing other than themselves, where they came from, when they will get laid next, how they are running late because they are too selfish to leave five minutes early for any destination so they can travel in a relaxed state and make travel an experience instead of a chore. Anyone who says they looked but did not see before they crash a motor-vehicle is simply just a very average example of a human being. When I ride a motorcycle all I can do is assume the worst of every single automobile driver that is near me, and that is not being paranoid at all, it is being realistic and educated. Maybe it is why besides having a natural aptitude for travelling on wheels and not being on a motorcycle because it is jewellery for my ego, that I have never had any accident overriding motorcycles more than a couple decades.

17/01/18 - Bike position can sometimes help as well, many car drivers are looking in the place where they expect to see another car driver, if a bike is there they sometimes notice it, if the bike is over to the side of the carriageway then it may as well be invisible to many. That's not because they're stupid or careless or ignorant, it's because they have been taught since childhood, "look both ways, are there any *cars* coming?", We programme it into our own children unknowingly :(

17/01/18 - I've had drivers and pedestrians actually make eye contact with me and still step/pull out in front of me. I think it goes way beyond inattentive

17/01/18 - Inattentional blindness which needs to be understood by all drivers AND BIKERS is more fully explained here: http://nobaproject.com/modules/failures-of-awareness-the-case-of-inattentional-blindness

17/01/18 - To wrapped up in their own world to actually take in the road speed and other humans using the road, not understanding give way to road users already on the main road

17/01/18 - I think most drivers are looking for something the size of a car and not a bike so look beyond you, people need educating.

17/01/18 - Hell my neighbour did that to me just yesterday !! in his truck with a trailer !! I played him chicken ! and just missed the back end of his rig, stupid old bugg*r just doesn't care !!....pr*ck

17/01/18 - With the amount of drivers that I see going through red lights at junction, still using mobile phones while driving. There Judy seems to be a lot of drivers out there that think the rules of the road are not their concern. As with the question, a lot of driver's just seem to be in a hurry and don't concentrate on looking and driving with due care and attention.

17/01/18 - I think that if you're a car/van/bus/truck or whatever type of driver out there......if you have never ridden a motorcycle....you just can't gauge how far away or at what speed a bike is coming at you......if any doubt...stay putt.

17/01/18 - The design of the 'A' frame of a car's windscreen has a part to play, as well as drivers who think only cars use the roads.

17/01/18 - Then there's the tw*ts who see you and appear to be waiting for you to go past then pull out at the last few seconds. WTF is that about?

17/01/18 - They see you but it means nothing to em it's not going to hurt them and even if they kill you probably a fine and s few points.

17/01/18 - Just plain careless, self-centered, self-obsessed sh*th**ds for whom nobody in the world other than their own sweet selves exist. Shooting is too good for them.

17/01/18 - They look but don't see.

17/01/18 - looked-but-failed-to-see" .. should read glanced-so-failed-to-see, as in .... At the junction, I only glanced-so-failed-to-see any vehicle with a frontal area smaller than a car.

17/01/18 - I am that exact victim of this. A woman pulled out of a junction the same 15 ft in front of me, I ended up over the car with 5 fractures. I was in 3rd gear reducing to a primary school 20 zone. She failed to see me, I had a headlight on too

Last Edited: 2018 February 20

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