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Risk Hierarchy: Information - Rider Ed - Driver Ed - Conspicuity - Bike Defect - Ultra-Defensive Riding - Crash Avoidance - Injury Mitigation - Crash Scene
It is long accepted that a large number of crashes are caused by a cage driver failing to see a motorcycle. The European Maids study found that cage drivers who also happened to have a motorcycle operator’s license were blamed for the crash at only half the rate of cage drivers with no bike license. They fail to see the motorcycle at about one sixth the rate of cage drivers with no motorcycle license. That indicates that maybe drivers can be trained to see bikes better.
As drivers failing to see riders are probably the second largest cause of accidents, any improvement in this area should have an effect on the frequency of accidents.
Motorcycles are small and narrow. If you think about an oncoming truck, you have a nice, rectangular image which is getting bigger as the truck approaches. A motorcycle does not offer many visual cues to help people's vision gauge the closing speed. There is support for this in research, see Forensic Engineering Investigation by Randall Noon, CRC Press, 2001, ISBN 0849309115 (Google Books has an excerpt). Here's an excellent article on the cognitive processes around vision, conspicuity and attention.
We think that the bike-sensitized car drivers in Maids had trained themselves to notice motorcycles and better estimate their closing speed.
Here's a video that illustrates the problem and also part of the solution (driver education). I don't think it's always a case of gross inattention like this, although bikers probably have an interest in limiting texting and other distracting activities while driving. Distraction makes the problem worse, but lack of driver perception happens without it.
Efforts like the Public Service Announcement seen above and programs like MAC's campaign, DOT and state campaigns deserve our support.
Drivers' Ed programs and driver license testing seem like good places to push this point. Individual bikers need to discuss the issue with their cage-driving friends, distribute bumper stickers and do anything possible to promote MAC's campaign, even join MAC.
In this era of viral videos and snappy game simulations, we need to think outside the box and come up with better ways to train drivers to see motorcycles.
Biker Psychology Note
Although it's true that cage drivers often don't notice bikers and have historically been the cause of many motorcycle crashes, this fact doesn't help bikers control our risks.
A victim mentality is useless for a biker. It encourages fatalism and impedes us in our task of controlling our risk factors. When bikers crash, blaming the cage driver turns us into victims and denial makes us unable to learn from our mistakes.
The smart bikers I know who were in crashes analyze what they could have done, what they should have seen in time and what measures they should have taken to avoid the crash EVEN WHEN IT WAS NOT THEIR FAULT. They learned from their mistakes. See out blog posting on TEAM OREGON for a discussion of victim mentality and how it kills bikers.
We resolve to control our outcomes no matter what cage drivers do.