Research Discovers Why Some Drivers Do Not See Motorcyclists on the Road

A new study that involved eye-tracking technology found that drivers and riders do not see the same things on the road. The findings explain why so many accidents occur, and why drivers often tell motorcyclists that they did not see them. As it appears, there is truth in that saying, but it has to do with the brain.
Bournemouth University’s PhD researcher Shel Silva 8 photos
Photo: Docbike/Shel Silva's personal archive
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Shel Silva, a Ph.D. Researcher of Bournemouth University, who is also a motorcycle rider, led the study. On top of eye-tracking technology, the people behind the study also interviewed all participants to understand what they were thinking of at certain points during the test. Researchers have found that there is a natural blind spot in the human eye that has a role in this.

According to Shel Silva, the phenomenon of saccadic masking, which involves the brain selectively blocking visual data during eye movements, plays a part in the visual habits of drivers and riders alike.

That phenomenon, along with the need to concentrate on a different task – watching the road ahead (hopefully, and not the smartphone) – as well as checking the mirrors, may explain why many drivers only spot motorcyclists at the last moment.

Sadly, in many cases, motorcyclists are spotted too late. After careful review of the data, Shel Silva recommended motorcyclists to make minor lane adjustments within their lane before making a maneuver or a turn.

The idea is that drivers would have their attention captured by the additional movement, thus making riders more visible, VisorDown notes.
We would like to point out the fact that the same advice also works for cyclists, moped users, and e-scooter users.

It is essential to ride predictably to those around you, which means making sure that it is obvious where you want to go. If you cannot see a driver's eyes in their side-view mirrors, you can be sure they cannot see you at all. It goes without saying that you should always wear a helmet when you are on two wheels.

Making yourself visible is also a clever idea, so wearing reflective equipment is a smart thing to do. The same can be said about your vehicle of choice, which can receive reflective stripes here and there, just for a bit of extra help after the sun goes down.

The researchers behind the study have also noted that humans tend to view larger objects as threats, which is why you will see the bus or the truck with ease while driving or riding. Along with the described saccadic masking, it becomes clear why some motorcyclists do not get noticed by drivers despite being in their field of vision.

Motorcyclists are recommended to enhance their ability to "read the road," which means assessing potential hazards, as well as estimating what the other road users might do next, estimating on their maneuvers. Always drive and ride well within the limits of your ability, available grip, and leave plenty of room to stop.

There is no prize for reaching a destination first while you are on the open road, but getting to and from your destination in one piece can be considered the prize, especially if you think about those who did not make it.
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Editor's note: The photo gallery shows images from The Distinguished Gentleman's Ride (DGR) for illustration purposes.

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About the author: Sebastian Toma
Sebastian Toma profile photo

Sebastian's love for cars began at a young age. Little did he know that a career would emerge from this passion (and that it would not, sadly, involve being a professional racecar driver). In over fourteen years, he got behind the wheel of several hundred vehicles and in the offices of the most important car publications in his homeland.
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