Guest Blog by Chris Harrison,
As riders it is a phrase we hear all too often. Is it a weak excuse for bad driving or is there more to it than that?
It will have happened to all of us whilst riding in full view of a driver. That driver may have even looked directly at us yet they pull out or turn across our path with a variety of outcomes. Surely those drivers need to look harder, longer, twice or think and be more careful?
If we really want to improve our chances of survival we must first know and understand how and why it is likely to go wrong, only then can we introduce strategies into our riding to improve our chances.
The SMIDSY, or Driver/Rider Failed to look properly, is by far the most common cause of crashes involving motorcycles. In fact it is the most common cause for all vehicle types with the second most common cause being ‘Failed to judge another vehicles path or speed’. These two factors contribute to nearly half of all collisions each year.
There have been numerous articles about how the eye works in relation to seeing, but the issue goes much deeper, right into our brains core.
This isn’t a motorcycle issue, it’s a human issue.
“I Didn’t See You”
Seeing is a very complex human process. Our eyes are not cameras, they do not simply record everything within our field of vision, as most of what we believe we have seen is in fact a best guess created deep within our brain and influenced by things like past experience, emotion and what we want to see. We can break ‘seeing’ down into 3 simple phases;
- Seeing – Of course our eyes need to be directed at an object to be in with a chance of ‘seeing’ it but the fact they are pointing at that object offers no guarantees as they flick around the scene at a rate of 3 times per second taking narrow snapshots of anything that catches our eye or a particular point that our brain has directed them too.
- Recognition – The brain then needs to make sense and recognise the object or objects from the information received from the eyes. What is it, is it what I am looking for, is it a threat, is it of importance, is it more or less important than other objects? This occurs in under 100 milliseconds. In fact its suggested humans are capable of this as quickly as 13 milliseconds.
- Acknowledgement – This is the moment one part of the brain sends a message to another part of the brain regarding the object or objects so that it can decide what action to take.
The above is hugely simplistic as the brain is having to cope with vast amounts of information being received through all of our senses at any one time but hopefully it will help with understanding the SMIDSY.
Applying the above to a real situation as we ride toward a junction with a driver waiting to emerge or turn across our path and they appear to be looking in our direction.
- Seeing – the eyes are attracted to objects, especially large or moving ones, sign posts, trees, lines in the road, the car behind us. They tend to avoid open space as the brain is happy to fill in the large gaps. The eyes also land where they expect to see something, which depending on the speed of the road can be very close to the junction, leaving you, the rider, invisible or just part of the scenery as you approach.
- Recognition – even if the drivers sight has landed on you or your bike the brain needs to recognise it as a person on a motorcycle travelling toward them. It’s best at recognising objects with a bold shape or outline which contrasts with our background. This can be difficult for us to achieve as our background constantly changes, so a hi-viz would contrast against a dark background but would act as camouflage against a light background. The same goes for headlights, and it’s the other way round for black leathers. If the drivers brain has failed to recognise the approaching motorcycle the driver will have no knowledge you are there and carry out their intended manoeuvre.
- Acknowledgement – If the driver’s brain has recognised you and your bike it moves on to the next stage where it assesses the approach speed to decide whether the bike is of any particular importance. Because of our relative small size the brain is often deceived into believing the bike is much further away and travelling at a lower speed than reality, so even if acknowledged as being present, the brain may decide there is sufficient time to carry out the manoeuvre and the driver will move into your path. It’s common for drivers to claim that the rider accelerated into them. This is due to the way we appear to grow as we approach them only when we get very close.
We cannot change the way the human brain functions and we have no direct control over the actions of other humans so to survive we must look at what we can do to protect ourselves from the outcome of this extremely common, human, limitation.
- Expect and prepare to have not been ‘seen, recognised & acknowledged’ by other road users.
- On approach to a junction, especially where a vehicle is waiting to emerge, consider reducing your speed. When we brake we lose the last half of our speed in the final 5 or 6 metres before we come to a stop, so by knocking off just 5 MPH when you spot the car could mean that if you have to brake, you could be going slowly enough when you reach the car to steer around it.
- Consider your position in your lane. Drivers are looking for cars and other drivers, so positioning yourself nearer the right hand side of the lane if the car is emerging from the nearside for example, may place you in the driver’s gaze. It also moves you away from the front of their vehicle if they are waiting to emerge from the nearside.
- Consider using your horn the way it is intended, to attract the driver’s attention.
There is no simple solution. You as a rider must weigh up the best course of action in any given situation. The very fact you are weighing it up means you are far less likely to be caught out and you won’t have to rely on natural reactions as these tend to be counterproductive. Instead you will find riding much more enjoyable and when that driver crosses your path you will feel in full control of the situation.
Chris Harrison – assessor at the DVSA and was previously head of rider safety at Gloucester emergency services covering the Police, Fire and Ambulance service for the 3 counties of Gloucester, Avon and Somerset.