Most experienced motorcycle riders have stories about near misses with passenger vehicles, seemingly because the driver did not “see” them. Forbes reports that a study from the National Transportation Safety Board confirms that motorcycles' virtual invisibility is indeed one of the most significant contributors to crashes.
Although they are only about a third as wide as a passenger vehicle when seen from the front, motorcycles are not literally invisible, and drivers should be able to identify them every time. So what could make it more likely that drivers will recognize the presence of motorcycles?
New passenger vehicles often come standard or with options packages that include blind-spot detection technology. A flashing light, beep and/or haptic alert warn the driver that a vehicle is beside it. Not all systems are equal, and some do not do as well detecting motorcycles as they do larger vehicles. Ongoing improvements to sensors, cameras and warning systems can decrease the likelihood of a side-swipe accident.
Motorcycle technology has also made improvements, including antilock braking systems, crash warning prevention systems and others. Many manufacturers are beginning to include such safety features on all their new motorcycles.
Science Daily reports on research confirming that the human brain filters out input that it does not expect, and that this applies directly to motorcycles. When drivers are scanning their surroundings for other vehicles, they typically only expect to see cars, SUVs, pickups and trucks. Even though a driver looks directly at a motorcycle, the brain does not register its presence. In one study, almost half of the participants did not notice a motorcycle included in a series of photographs that depicted typical driving scenarios.
Researchers concluded that drivers should receive training in motorcycle awareness. When drivers are conscious of the need to actively identify motorcycles in the vicinity, they see them more often.