New research published by the The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society suggests that drivers often fail to “see” motorbikers – and by extension cyclists – even when they look right at them.
Planetsave reports lead author Kristen Pammer, a professor of psychology and associate dean of science at Australian National University, as saying: “When we are driving, there is a huge amount of sensory information that our brain must deal with.
“We can’t attend to everything, because this would consume enormous cognitive resources and take too much time. So our brain has to decide what information is most important. The frequency of LBFTS [looked but failed to see] crashes suggests to us a connection with how the brain filters out information.”
Researchers asked 56 adults to look at photos showing routine driving situations from a driver’s perspective. Participants were asked to decide if the situations represented safe or unsafe driving conditions.
In the final photograph, researchers inserted an unexpected vehicle into the scene — either a taxi or a motorbike. Half didn’t notice, and of those who did, two thirds identified the taxi while less than a third identified the motorbike.
“Motorcycles appear to be very low on the priority list for the brain when it is filtering information,” said Pammer. One can only wonder where cyclists might rank in such a hierarchy.
Failure to notice an unexpected object located in plain sight is termed ‘inattentional blindness’.
The best-known study demonstrating the phenomenon centred on this video.
In most groups, 50 per cent of subjects do not report seeing the gorilla.
Pammer and her coauthors believe their study highlights a need to encourage drivers to be more motorcycle-aware when learning to drive.
"By putting motorcyclists higher on the brain 'radar' of the driver, hopefully drivers will be more likely to see them. In the meantime, we need to be more vigilant, more active, and more conscious when driving."