According to Science, Bikers and Drivers View the Road Differently

If you have ridden a motorcycle before, then you understand the heightened amount of awareness and precautions one must have while around other drivers and being exposed to the elements.

According to a study helmed by Shel Silva of Bournemouth University, motorcycles and drivers have different kinds of visual perception. In an effort to examine motorcycle accidents and prevention, the researchers discovered that a motorcycle rider’s visual attention can differ from that of a car driver’s, despite both traveling down the same road. The human brain will naturally see large objects like Semi-trailers as threats, in contrast to smaller objects like motorcycles.

Meanwhile, a motorcyclist’s visual attention will frequently be more focused on smaller objects like debris, potholes, road obstacles, and oil slicks. They will also be more aware of outside factors like distance from other vehicles, weather conditions, wind gusts, temperature, physical fatigue, and of course the embarrassment of dropping your bike.

“The research is suggesting that by understanding motorcyclists’ knowledge and identification of risks it is possible to better inform training and materials which appeal to motorcyclists,” says Silva. “It is key to understand that motorcyclists do not need training about how to ride a motorcycle but would benefit from more skills regarding how to read the road and other road users.”

Research for the study gathered data from participants that consisted of four main parts:

  • The amount of motorcycle riding experience, training, and annual riding mileage
  • Questions for why they choose to ride a motorcycle, despite the heightened level of danger
  • Eye-tracking data from watching videos and images of roads that have high amounts of motorcycle accidents
  • An optional semi-structured interview

Silva believes that an effective defensive riding maneuver for motorcyclists to be seen is to make lateral movements in order to “trigger a visual orienting response in other road users, consequently drawing their attention.”

This is based on the human brain undergoing “saccadic masking”, which is when the brain fills in visual information when moving the eyes. As a result of this, sometimes a motorcyclist can be obscured from the driver’s view.

As an added level of defense, many motorcycle riders will increase the volume of the sound being emitted from their exhaust by adding slip-on pipes. Because in the event where they are not seen, they will at least be heard.

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