Why do so many drivers fail to spot motorcycles in traffic?

During discussions of motorcycle collisions, the focus is too often on the role of motorcyclists. Some people talk about intoxication and speeding as the biggest safety issues for those who enjoy two-wheeled transportation. While it is certainly true that the decisions of those on motorcycles can affect their safety, it is often the actions of those in other vehicles that will directly lead to a motorcycle collision. The people operating four-wheeled enclosed vehicles can also choose to drink before driving or drive too fast based on the location or weather.

However, one of the most common reasons that motorists give for causing a crash involving a motorcycle rider has nothing to do with unsafe choices and everything to do with their comfortable driving habits.

People who fail to actively look won’t see motorcycles

Those who hit motorcycles, which are arguably loud and large even in heavy traffic, often claim that they didn’t see the other party before the collision occurred. The psychological term inattentional blindness refers to the phenomenon that these motorists experience before a crash.

A large amount of the brain’s efforts go toward the processing of visual information in traffic. In fact, there is usually so much incoming information that the brain has to prioritize what someone focuses on for safety’s sake. A driver doesn’t need to think about the cat in a window or the people talking at a cafe across the street. The brain will focus on the semi-truck across the intersection or the SUV looming in the rearview mirror because it will perceive those objects as a source of risk. Motorcycles, along with pedestrians and bicyclists, are smaller and therefore less likely to trigger a threat response in the brain.

Someone can look right at a motorcycle and technically see it and never realize it is there because their brain doesn’t prioritize sharing that information with them. While this is a serious safety concern for everyone on motorcycles, the solution is incredibly simple. Drivers just have to check their surroundings and remind themselves to look for motorcycles, pedestrians and bicycles.

An explanation is not an excuse

While there may be a very reasonable explanation for why someone in an SUV didn’t notice the very loud and expensive motorcycle across the intersection before a crash, that psychological explanation does not absolve someone of their responsibility to be safe in traffic and to share the road with a motorcycle. Those who have been affected by inattentional blindness often have a right to file an insurance claim or even a civil lawsuit against a motorist who didn’t notice them in traffic and caused them harm as a result.



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