Some time ago I blogged (here) about the gorilla in the room in an attempt to explain why so many car drivers just don’t see us (and oftentimes don’t even see other cars or trucks). Sure we’re a smaller target but it seems there is, in fact, a physiological explanation for this common and temporary spot blindness.
Now another interesting bit of information regarding selective blindness has come to my attention – motion induced blindness. Motion induced blindness is a phenomenon where, if a person’s sight is fixated on a specific point and the background is moving, then that person may develop blind spots in the periphery of their vision. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s web site has a demonstration of this phenomenon at http://www.msf-usa.org/motion.html and Wikipedia provides a bit more detail at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motion-induced_blindness.
To put this in practical terms, consider a driver in a hurry who is approaching an intersection. He has visually fixated on the traffic light, hoping it doesn’t change before he gets there. Traffic is moving around him. These are ideal conditions for that driver to not even see the motorcyclist just off his front fender as he changes lanes, with predictable results.
The fact that there are explanations for such behaviour doesn’t absolve the driver from any responsibility. However as riders we can help make ourselves more visible by knowing what is happening and why. And it turns out one of the simplest remedies is movement; lateral movement seems to be most effective in breaking through that visual trance. Just shifting lane positions when approaching intersections or when surrounded by heavy traffic is often as good as a red flag and an air horn, and certainly better than a “CAN YOU SEE ME NOW, ASSHOLE?” fluorescent green t-shirt that the zoned-out driver still won’t see.
All of which is to say, it’s a dangerous world out there, so ride safe folks!