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Here’s why drivers may collide with motorcycle riders despite ‘seeing’ them

Motorcycle-related accidents account for a significant proportion of death and injuries from traffic accidents. Some of these accidents involve drivers that pull in the path of motorcycle riders despite appearing to look in their direction. Why does these forms of accidents likely to occur? According to a new study, drivers fail to ‘see’ such motorcycles because they are low on their priorities of road users. Although motorists know that motorcycles are also on the road, they may not actively look out for them.

In a statement by Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (the world’s largest scientific association for human factors/ergonomics professionals, with more than 4,500 members globally), the authors provided more information on why they embarked on the study and what were their main findings:


According to human factors/ergonomics researchers Kristen Pammer, Stephanie Sabadas, and Stephanie Lentern, LBFTS crashes are particularly troublesome because, despite clear conditions and the lack of other hazards or distractions, drivers will look in the direction of the oncoming motorcycle—and in some cases appear to look directly at the motorcycle—but still pull into its path.

Pammer, a professor of psychology and the associate dean of science at Australian National University, notes, “When we are driving, there is a huge amount of sensory information that our brain must deal with. We can’t attend to everything, because this would consume enormous cognitive resources and take too much time. So our brain has to decide what information is most important. The frequency of LBFTS crashes suggests to us a connection with how the brain filters out information.”

The researchers recruited 56 adults and asked them to examine a series of photographs depicting routine driving situations taken from the driver’s perspective. The respondents were to determine whether the image represented a safe or unsafe driving environment. In the final photograph, the researchers manipulated the image to include an unexpected object, either a motorcycle or a taxi, and asked participants if they noticed either object.

Although 48% of all participants reported that they didn’t notice any additional object, they were significantly less likely to detect the motorcycle (65%) than to notice the taxi (31%).

Further evidence that inattentional blindness could be present was revealed in the results of a survey administered before the experiment, the purpose of which was to gauge participants’ overall perception of each vehicle in the photos. Although they believed a motorcycle was just as likely to be on the road as a taxi, they thought they would be far less likely to notice the motorcycle.

Pammer and coauthors believe their study highlights the need to encourage drivers to be more motorcycle-aware. Training programs could be required for all novice drivers.

“Motorcycles appear to be very low on the priority list for the brain when it is filtering information,” Pammer adds. “By putting motorcyclists higher on the brain ‘radar’ of the driver, hopefully drivers will be more likely to see them. In the meantime, we need to be more vigilant, more active, and more conscious when driving.”

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This information is important because motorcycle related injuries account for a significant portion of road traffic accidents in developing countries.

In Nigeria, motorcycles popularly referred to as ‘Okada’ are a major form of commercial transport in towns and cities alike. In one study in Southern Nigeria, about 7 out 10 commercial motorcyclists had been involved in road traffic incidents resulting in injuries.

Some of these are partly due to excessive speeds and driving under influence. Nevertheless, inattention of drivers may also contribute to the high prevalence too. .

Could motorcycle-related accidents  be reduced if motorists are encouraged to actively look out for motorcyclists?

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