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Younger drivers, women and sat-nav users most likely not to see cyclists

More than one in five cyclists go unseen by motorists on the road, according to an experiment using eye tracking technology conducted for the insurance company Direct Line, confirming the extent of the ‘SMIDSY’ – ‘Sorry mate, I didn’t see you. Younger drivers missed spotting nearly one in three riders, and female motorists one in four. By contrast, just 4 per cent of what Direct Line terms "jaywalking" pedestrians were not seen, and 15 per cent of motorcyclists.

Motorists who took part in the experiment wore “specialist glasses that pinpoint the exact focus of the eye by tracking microscopic movements in the cornea,” said the company, adding that film footage “enabled researchers to establish exactly where drivers focus their vision, which was often at clouds, buildings and passers-by.” Here’s a short video of it in operation.

The experiment was conducted in three cities – London, Oxford, and Sheffield – and according to Direct Line the issue is most prevalent in the capital, where motorists fail to see three in ten cyclists.

That’s despite the growth in cycling in the city in recent years, that suggests we’re some way from seeing a ‘Safety in numbers’ effect kick in there, whereby the more people there are on bikes, the more motorists are likely to register their presence and drive accordingly.

In Oxford, which has the second highest levels of cycling in England after Cambridge, 20 per cent of riders went unseen, and in Sheffield, 15 per cent.

Researchers found examples of motorists taking their eyes of the road to adjust sat-nav devices and in one case navigate using a hand-held smartphone, and Direct Line says that 24 per cent of riders are “invisible” to drivers using a sat-nav device, compared to 19 per cent where the motorist does not use one.

The biggest difference in the proportion of drivers registering the presence of cyclists was by age.  Some 21 per cent of cyclists were unnoticed by those aged 50 or over, but 31 per cent among motorists aged between 20 and 29 years. Again, that’s a cause for concern given that younger people have better eyesight on the whole.

Vicky Bristow, spokesperson for Direct Line car insurance said “For the first time we know exactly where people focus their eyes when driving and the results are frightening.

“UK roads are busy and congested and as a result millions of cyclists are going unseen.

“Blaming motorists seems like an easy option, but this issue can only be really addressed if both motorists and cyclists accept responsibility.

“Encouraging all road users to be extra vigilant will certainly improve road safety but tackling an issue of this scale really requires top-down change.

“Successive governments have encouraged local authorities to adopt policies to make cycling safer in the past but our research highlights that this issue is still widespread.”

Drivers                 % that failed to spot cyclists

Sat nav drivers                     23.7
Non-sat nav drivers                 19.0
Female drivers                      25.6
Male drivers                        17.1
Drivers aged 20-29                  31.1
Drivers aged 30-39                  20.7
Drivers aged 40-49                  21.6
Drivers aged 50-59                  20.9
All drivers                         22.0 

Source: Direct Line Motor Insurance

One thing we wondered was whether the cyclist wearing hi-viz clothing had any impact on their visibility to motorists – a subject of some debate in comments to stories here on road.cc - so we asked Direct Line whether the clothing cyclists sported had any impact.

The company told us that the study considered a lot of data, including speed cameras, pedestrians, road signs etc, and the lack of vigilance motorists display towards cyclists was what it chose to focus on.

It added that had the survey been commissioned specifically into cyclists, then that would have been one of the areas it would have looked at, and that it is likely to undertake such research in the future.

As for that comment in the first paragraph about "jaywalking" pedestrians, the term of course is widely used in the United States where there are much more severe restrictions on where pedestrians can legally cross a road compared to England, Wales and Scotland; here, pedestrians are not allowed on motorways, but other than that can cross the road except where a specific 'no pedestrians' sign is in place, although official advice is for them to wait until it is safe to do so. Jaywalking is an offence in Northern Ireland, but one that is rarely enforced.

 

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.

44 comments

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YorkshireMike [91 posts] 3 years ago
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Funny, I've often thought about how/when an experiment like this would be conducted while I've been out riding - the results are pretty much identical to what I expected!

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mad_scot_rider [581 posts] 3 years ago
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Sorry still trying to align these two phrases in my head

"... Blaming motorists seems like an easy option ..."

and

"... drivers focus their vision, which was often at clouds, buildings and passers-by ..."

It's just not working

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md6 [181 posts] 3 years ago
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quote: Blaming motorists seems like an easy option, but this issue can only be really addressed if both motorists and cyclists accept responsibility.

How exactly can a cyclist be responsible for a driver watching a cloud, looking at someone waling by instead of the road? If i'm wearing lights and/or bright clothing, or it is day time. What else can I be expected to do? seriously, I am interested...any ideas other than drive a car?

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alotronic [461 posts] 3 years ago
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No surprises but good to see it studied. I have done exactly the same kind of testing on websites.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saccade

Short version - your brain makes stuff up as your vision skips around. And mostly makes up a picture between states of vision and *may* completely skip the cyclist/pedestrian/motorbike in the middle 'frame'.

Once you know that everything kinda makes sense - they really didn't see you! However good and careful driving can compensate for this obviously.

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CraigS [129 posts] 3 years ago
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The fact it's based on eye tracking shows it's not about cyclists not making themselves visible, it's about drivers not looking.

Riding defensively puts you in a driver's eyeline, no amount of hi-vis will get you seen if you're riding along the kerb.

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bohrhead [71 posts] 3 years ago
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Surely you don't need to look directly at a cyclist or even completely focus on them to know that they are there. I focus on things other than the road when I'm driving (e.g. spring lambs) but my field of vision is quite enough to passively take in the road and what's on it too.

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felixcat [467 posts] 3 years ago
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It would be interesting to do the experiment with cyclists. I would guess that cyclists are much less likely to fail to see motor vehicles. If so, why?

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notfastenough [3674 posts] 3 years ago
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mad_scot_rider wrote:

Sorry still trying to align these two phrases in my head

"... Blaming motorists seems like an easy option ..."

and

"... drivers focus their vision, which was often at clouds, buildings and passers-by ..."

It's just not working

That's what I was thinking. What are we supposed to do? Other than disguising myself as a cloud, obviously.

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spatuluk [27 posts] 3 years ago
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"Blaming motorists seems like an easy option, but this issue can only be really addressed if both motorists and cyclists accept responsibility."

Try telling that to a judge! oh.. wait..

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mintimperial [18 posts] 3 years ago
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Blaming motorists seems like an easy option, but this issue can only be really addressed if both motorists and cyclists accept responsibility.

I give up, really I do. Jesus H Christ.  22

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jackh [119 posts] 3 years ago
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Quote:

Blaming motorists seems like an easy option, but this issue can only be really addressed if both motorists and cyclists accept responsibility.

Bloody hell, did she even read the study?

It's also worth pointing out that there are pretty shocking stats for motorcycles too, lets not pretend this is limited to cyclists.

Another point is that the use of the term jaywalker, meaning a person crossing illegally (not possible in the UK AFAIK) or irresponsibly (of course, possible anywhere) is in my view pushes responsibility from the car driver onto the pedestrian crossing. What constitutes a jaywalker? Anyone crossing the road?

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crazy-legs [750 posts] 3 years ago
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This article:
http://www.londoncyclist.co.uk/raf-pilot-teach-cyclists/ was also a very interesting read on what drivers do and don't see - it came form the perspective of an RAF fighter pilot, someone who knows a thing or two about seeing hazards and reacting in microseconds! Very similar conclusions to this study.

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Yennings [237 posts] 3 years ago
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Typo in the headline on homepage, FYI: CYLISTS rather than cyclists, presumably?

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kitkat [348 posts] 3 years ago
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The only thing about this is how do you know what the brain is recieving on the peripehery? From the video there's a cyclist heading in the same direction as the car and they never recieve a red dot of attention but it doesn't mean that the driver doesn't know they are there.

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Carl [136 posts] 3 years ago
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Hey Crazy-Legs, thanks for posting the pilot article...well worth a read.

Makes me much more inclined to have flashing lights during the day as well as night.

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cidermart [489 posts] 3 years ago
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Well they can't very well blame the people who pay them their wages can they so the two wheeled demons, who apparently don't even pay for the roads, can take some responsibility for their own injuries. I do despair  14

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Sudor [186 posts] 3 years ago
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That film footage is bloody terrifying

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joemmo [1164 posts] 3 years ago
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It seems like allowing sat navs into the car has normalised the use of gadgets at the wheel, I think a lot of people think it is perfectly ok to use a smartphone while driving. after all its just a box with a screen on

Also astonished to see promotion for 'in car wifi' or 'google send to car' features in new cars and a whopping great touchscreen in the centre console - it's just insane putting those kind of distractions in front of a driver. Surely there must be some legislation about what can and can't be placed there?

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euanlindsay [82 posts] 3 years ago
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So who wants to brainstorm ways of making drivers look at cyclists instead of clouds, buildings or what was likely lovely lassies? Its obviously my responsibility to make sure drivers pay attention to their driving.

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euanlindsay [82 posts] 3 years ago
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Its also worth noting that drivers are almost equally not noticing motorcyclists. I've always thought that drivers only look for big boxes of metal.

They will happily see a 'cyclist but just not register their existence.

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HKCambridge [219 posts] 3 years ago
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jackh wrote:

Another point is that the use of the term jaywalker, meaning a person crossing illegally (not possible in the UK AFAIK) or irresponsibly (of course, possible anywhere) is in my view pushes responsibility from the car driver onto the pedestrian crossing. What constitutes a jaywalker? Anyone crossing the road?

Would guess a pedestrian crossing where there is no crossing, or crossing against the lights. Which is more of a mouthful.

But yes, not really relevant terminology in UK.

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HKCambridge [219 posts] 3 years ago
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bohrhead wrote:

Surely you don't need to look directly at a cyclist or even completely focus on them to know that they are there. I focus on things other than the road when I'm driving (e.g. spring lambs) but my field of vision is quite enough to passively take in the road and what's on it too.

But human peripheral vision is not good, and we have a tendency to make up things which we expect to see (see pilot link above). You cannot, and should not rely on peripheral vision while driving. It only take a moment to move your eyes or head.

In any case, it doesn't explain the discrepancy with pedestrians.

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Bigcog [21 posts] 3 years ago
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it's clear that we are often not seen. However, I would question the test based on peripheral visison. If I am looking at the car as the user was doing - I see the cyclist in my peripheral vision - that doesn't mean I don't register that they are there [just because I don't look directly at them]. Best advice is to ride with purpose and make your self seen - also don't ride very close to the curb as this will lead to motorists coming way too close (attemting to stay in lane whilst passing you).

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Argos74 [391 posts] 3 years ago
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I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of oh bloody hell where did those nuns on bikes come from?

Clouds? I mean, seriously, clouds?

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Simmo72 [603 posts] 3 years ago
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I would like to the see the make/model of vehicle involved in an accident with a cyclist. I would wager a fecking great big 4x4;s are right up there as the owners are incapable of driving safely

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Simmo72 [603 posts] 3 years ago
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Agree. I tested some new cars recently and was shocked at the new touch screen functionality. firsty its distracting as there is a vast amount of functionality and secondly its positioned so badly it takes your eye completely off the road. Yes VW Golf, a terrible piece of design. I refused to buy on these grounds.

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kitkat [348 posts] 3 years ago
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Simmo72 wrote:

Agree. I tested some new cars recently and was shocked at the new touch screen functionality. firsty its distracting as there is a vast amount of functionality and secondly its positioned so badly it takes your eye completely off the road. Yes VW Golf, a terrible piece of design. I refused to buy on these grounds.

I second this, i drove a new golf on hire and the touch screen was a nightmare to use. It might be intuitive once you're used to it but trying to do it while unfamiliar and driving just felt dangerous.

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CotterPin [63 posts] 3 years ago
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Ride in the driver's eyeline rather than over to the left, and turn your head to look behind you periodically (make sure the road is clear ahead). The latter can make the driver become aware of you and pass you safely, or will give you a clue if they are on autopilot and so you might need to take action.

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mrmo [2070 posts] 3 years ago
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i guess one solution is to slow cars down, at least if they do hit something they will do it slowly and cause less damage.

bring back the red flag man!

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nuclear coffee [208 posts] 3 years ago
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felixcat wrote:

It would be interesting to do the experiment with cyclists. I would guess that cyclists are much less likely to fail to see motor vehicles. If so, why?

'cos they're bigger, and so less likely to fall into a 'saccade': http://www.londoncyclist.co.uk/raf-pilot-teach-cyclists/

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