Thursday, January 16, 2014

Motion induced blindness

Some time ago I blogged (here) about the gorilla in the room in an attempt to explain why so many car drivers just don’t see us (and oftentimes don’t even see other cars or trucks). Sure we’re a smaller target but it seems there is, in fact, a physiological explanation for this common and temporary spot blindness.

Now another interesting bit of information regarding selective blindness has come to my attention – motion induced blindness. Motion induced blindness is a phenomenon where, if a person’s sight is fixated on a specific point and the background is moving, then that person may develop blind spots in the periphery of their vision. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s web site has a demonstration of this phenomenon at http://www.msf-usa.org/motion.html and Wikipedia provides a bit more detail at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motion-induced_blindness.

To put this in practical terms, consider a driver in a hurry who is approaching an intersection. He has visually fixated on the traffic light, hoping it doesn’t change before he gets there. Traffic is moving around him. These are ideal conditions for that driver to not even see the motorcyclist just off his front fender as he changes lanes, with predictable results.

The fact that there are explanations for such behaviour doesn’t absolve the driver from any responsibility. However as riders we can help make ourselves more visible by knowing what is happening and why. And it turns out one of the simplest remedies is movement; lateral movement seems to be most effective in breaking through that visual trance. Just shifting lane positions when approaching intersections or when surrounded by heavy traffic is often as good as a red flag and an air horn, and certainly better than a “CAN YOU SEE ME NOW, ASSHOLE?” fluorescent green t-shirt that the zoned-out driver still won’t see.

All of which is to say, it’s a dangerous world out there, so ride safe folks!

8 comments:

  1. Lesson learned! I also noticed on the Motion Induced Blindness page if I stare at a single yellow spot the other yellows disappear, but the blinking green X is always visible. Brains are funny things,

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    1. AZHD - Your last sentence sums it up perfectly, and there's so little we really know about how it really works. We are always quick to blame the individual for a lot of things that, in reality, are quite beyond their control - especially if they are not aware of it. So, of necessity, we have to use our knowledge to counteract their ignorance.

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  2. When they talk of SMIDSY (Sorry Mate, I didn't see you) in the UK they talk a little about this. Weaving within a lane to make sure that approaching cars can see you. There are even a few videos on YouTube I think.

    And I agree with AHD - our brains are funny things.

    Now if we can jut get the car and SUV drivers to stop talking on cell phones and texting while driving......

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    1. Trobairitz - I'm beginning to think that's the bigger issue. I was rear-ended (while in my car fortunately) by a teen on a cell phone. My only consolation was the thought of him having to explain why his father's car had a smashed up front end.

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  3. I'd seen those studies before, truly are motorcycles invisible, no matter what gear you're wearing, how many bright lights your ride is sporting, no matter how loud your horn. I also recall, though I now can't find the link, where the Brits teach you to weave slightly within your lane as you approach an intersection where you spot a cager preparing to turn left, the movement catches their eye as you mention.

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    1. Charlie6 - We used to teach that weaving motion when I did the basic and advanced rider courses back in the 80s. I still do it now as a matter of habit.

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  4. A bit like a game of cat spies mouse ... useful information. Thanks for the tip Canajun.

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    1. VStar Lady - You're welcome. Just something else to ponder while we look out at -20 degrees for the next couple of months.

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