The Roadcraft Files – “I Made Eye Contact…Right Before We Collided.”
“Are you lookin’ at me?” Okay, so we’ve taken some liberty with one of the most famous lines in moviedom – Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver – but it’s a question we need to be asking. Let’s look at this in more detail.
Often heard in the motorcycling community is this; “Car drivers are all out to kill us.” I don’t know about you but of all the car drivers I’ve come across over the years I have yet to encounter one who deliberately set out to cause me serious harm. There are plenty of ornery jerks out there, and tens of thousands who are distracted or not paying attention, but the ones who set out to commit vehicular homicide appear, thankfully, to be few and far between.
A common phrase in police accident reports is this; “The driver looked but didn’t see.” We often hear this referred to as a SMIDSY – Sorry Mate, I Didn’t See You. Why didn’t that driver see you? They were looking right at you, right? How could they look, but not see? It’s a rather complicated issue.
Let’s start with Global Precedence. “Global Precedence occurs when an individual more readily identifies the global feature when presented with a stimulus containing both global and local features.” In other words the individual sees the big picture but perhaps not all of the smaller features within it; for example you, the motorcyclist. Prime attention is directed to larger objects. A truck is bigger than a car which is bigger and wider than a motorcycle which is bigger than a bicycle, etc.
In the previous newsletter we noted that Reaction time is Decision-making and Output combined. Both drivers and riders have similar response times (output) but vary greatly in the amount of time it takes to make a decision. In demanding or complex situations key information may be forgotten or discarded before it can be stored in short-term memory. It’s entirely possible that in developing or busy traffic situations some road users may unconsciously ‘choose’ not to see you. SMIDSY
What are you wearing? Are you familiar with camouflage? Are you aware that your bike and clothing colours may be blending in very nicely with your background. Excellent. Zombie snipers will have a devil of a time picking you out. On the other hand so will other road users.
What else might cause us to go unseen? The human eye is a true wonder but still short of nature’s best, such as found on eagles and houseflies. Not only do we have a dominant eye – meaning there is a weaker one – but each eye has its own blind spot. Then there is depth perception, itself a very complicated processing of sensory information, binocular and monocular visual cues. If one or more aspects of that system are not working well then distance perception will be compromised. Only your optometrist knows for sure and I don’t know your optometrist.
Is the person in the car next to you wearing their prescription eyewear? Or did they leave their glasses/contacts home because they’re unstylish or ‘too uncomfortable’? Any person over 40 can develop cataracts – a clouding of the lens – not ideal for crisp vision and subsequent decision-making and action. Do they have a form of dyslexia, a headache, an itch to scratch? What about glare from low sun, dirty windscreens, kids making a fuss in the back seat, that oh-so-important text message (What! There are people who text and drive?!), that heavy thought weighing on their mind, cement trucks; the list goes on and on. SMIDSY
Are you lookin’ at me? Honestly I can’t say for sure but I do know this. You are the only one in control of your motorcycle. By claiming it’s always the other guy’s fault you abdicate your responsibility to put yourself in the right position at the right speed at the right time to avoid a hazard. It’s your move.
Mike Moloney ©2015
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