Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.

Why drivers do not “see” motorists

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, motorcycle crashes in the state decreased by 7.5 percent between 2017 and 2016. Rather than illustrate a steady decline, however, a look at the department’s reported figures from 2013 to 2017 shows troubling fluctuations in not just the number of crashes involving motorcycles, but also the number of fatal injury crashes involving a motorcycle. At the time of compiling this article, the Pennsylvania D.O.T. had not yet published the statistics for 2018.

But, why is it that so many drivers fail to see motorcyclists on the road? A motorcyclist who has had way too many close calls with your four-wheeled road companions may believe drivers are merely negligent and therefore at fault. However, while scientists certainly agree that drivers are at fault in a lot of these instances, negligence is not the scientific explanation they propose. Instead, scientists credit a lapse in how the brain processes information, called saccadic masking.

According to AutoWise, who shared the scientists’ findings, the brain processes images from eye movements in frames. Between these frames are blind spots that the brain replaces with a recent memory, creating the illusion of a continuous sweep. If a motorcyclist, pedestrian or anything else falls into one of these blind spots, then the driver may not recognize the person or object. The faster a driver moves their head from side to side, then the larger the blind spots will be.

To overcome this brain lapse and save lives, drivers may try learning to pause and focus on at least three main points as they move their head from side to side. This shortens the blind spots in their field of vision and may increase the likelihood of seeing motorcyclists on the road. It is also reasonable to infer that this will assist with lowering the risk of accidents involving cyclists, pedestrians and animals. Naturally, drivers are not the only ones who suffer from this brain lapse. All humans do, so it is important for motorcyclists to follow the same three-point approach when scanning the roadway for other users.

More instructors who teach teenagers and drivers who have been recommended for defensive driving classes should consider teaching this three-point technique. Over time, this may help to create a steadier decline in crashes, biker injuries and fatalities involving motorcyclists and other road users.

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