“I didn’t even see them!” are the classic words spoken following a 4-wheel on 2-wheel collision. After so many variations of the ‘unseen motorcycle’ story have been repeated by so many drivers after collisions, it’s time to ask the question – Why can’t other drivers see motorcycles in traffic?
The first and foremost reason may be a result of habit. In the spring, motorcycles are not a fixed presence on Saskatchewan roads. Many "caged" drivers have not shared the road with motorcycles for over 5-6 months. Simply put, the 4-wheeler's subconscious mind may have forgotten that the 2-wheelers even exist.
While that may explain some bad springtime habits, the mystery of the unseen motorcycle remains at large all season long. So, what else could be causing this lack of awareness? Let's look at some factors that seem to hide bikers from the eyes (and minds) of other Saskatchewan drivers.
Selective attention: Brains set to ‘driving mode’ are looking for obstacles. Many young drivers train themselves to scan for car and truck shaped objects - a habit that does not account for slender, two wheeled objects.
The solution? Be as visible as possible. Break through the visual bias that keeps you in the background. Honk, wave, and wear bright colours.
Peripheral blindness: The average peripheral vision is weak at best, and is geared towards movement. With the average driver looking for box-like vehicles, that leaves motorcycles to get lost in the blur.
The solution? Appeal to peripheral vision with movement. Hand waves, head nods, gentle speed variation. Stand out however possible.
Blind spots: Not just applicable to rear mirrors and big fluffy dice, those pillars surrounding the windshield can already obscure a full-sized vehicle… Think of how completely a motorcycle gets swallowed up in these additional blind spots.
The solution? Recognize when you are approaching a vehicle at the 10 or 2 o’clock positions, knowing that you may be obscured. Avoid lingering in rear gates that might fall into blind spots.
Headlights: A motorcycle’s single headlight is more likely to be passed over and ignored, as it does not ‘match’ the two-beam headlights a driver is expecting to see on the road. 4-wheel vehicles with burnt out headlights experience the same effect – they don’t match the ‘normal’ form of a vehicle, so other motorists mysteriously don’t register their presence.
The solution? Keep your headlights on bright in the daytime. Keep them clean and maintained at all times.
Sunlight: Both fighter pilots and birds of prey attack “out of the sun”. Why? Because contrast (shadow) stands out more than anything when registering new objects. The difference is, these attackers want to be hidden, motorcyclists should not.
The solution? Notice your shadow. If your shadow is pointing down road, those cars are having trouble seeing you! Avoid wearing black, grey or other background colours.
Familiarity: More than 50% of collisions occur within 8km of the home, and 25% occur within the first 3 minutes of driving. These familiar roads close to home get neglected by drivers feeling a false sense of security.
The solution? Don’t fall for this yourself! Those last few turns before arriving home may tempt the mind to wander. Stay vigilant from start to finish.
At the end of the day, it is up to each rider to take safety into their own hands. As we learn the psychology behind this spring 'psych-out' that plagues many drivers during the early riding season, we can help remind drivers that yes, motorcycles exist, and yes, we are back for another year of sharing the road.