When “Inattentional Blindness” Kills Motorcyclists

Apr 16, 2020 | Firm News

Spring is an exciting time to get on a motorcycle and take in all of the beauty.

Whether you’re tooling down the 509 heading past Dash Point or on Auburn Black Diamond Road or even way out on Southworth to Fox Island, it’s hard to beat our state for scenery. We’ve got it all, the coast, the peninsula, the mountains and the river basin.

It’s also a dangerous time to be out on a bike. That’s because even when other drivers “look” they fail to see you.

What is inattentional blindness?

Inattentional blindness has to do with the way the human brain processes information. Or you might say the way the brain fails to process some information. A driver can look, and there can be a motorcycle in plain sight, but the driver will fail to “see” the bike. This is called looked-but-failed-to-see (LBFTS) and is a recognized phenomenon for scientists who study accidents.

This LBFTS is what causes a driver to turn their head, look, and still pull out in front of a motorcycle. Even on the clearest day with the best road conditions this happens. Scientists have found that for some yet undetermined reason, in these instances the brain filters out motorcycles when taking in all of the ambient sensory information.

What Can Be Done To Stay Safe

Drivers need to be aware that they are not seeing motorcycles. Training needs to include watching and training the brain to see motorcycles so that the brain recognizes them right away.

The three things you as a cyclist can do are:

  1. Wear bright colors and reflective tape. A bright helmet and gloves improve your chance of being seen. Curiously, noise can also help your visibility, such as your muffler or music.
  2. Practice defensive driving, allowing tailgaters and aggressive drivers to pass.
  3. Know that drivers may be “looking but not seeing.”

Also, be aware of road conditions after the first snow melt. Potholes, sand and gravel, fallen branches and flooding all present hazards this time of year as well.