Distracted driving remains a major hazard on American roadways. A 2020 report by the National Safety Council found that distracted motorists are responsible for around eight fatal collisions a day in the U.S.
However, even undistracted drivers can make glaring mistakes if they are not watching out for the unexpected, including smaller vehicles like motorcycles. In fact, “looked-but-failed-to-see” collisions are one of the most common types of accidents involving motor vehicles and motorcycles. That may be due to a psychological phenomenon called inattentional blindness.
What is inattentional blindness?
Many researchers now believe that, because humans can only process so much visual data at once, the brain automatically filters out information that seems irrelevant. If a person does not expect to see an object or is not looking for it, he or she may overlook it completely, even if the object is in plain sight.
How can inattentional blindness endanger motorcyclists?
Recent research by the Australian National University demonstrates the relationship between inattentional blindness and the frequency of looked-but-failed-to-see collisions with motorcycles. In the study, participants examined a series of driver’s-view images and identified potential traffic hazards. Researchers altered the last photograph to include either a taxi or a motorcycle.
Of the 56 study members, 48% failed to notice any new vehicle in the final image, 31% did not detect the taxi and 65% overlooked the presence of the motorcycle.
As this study suggests, many drivers simply do not have motorcyclists on their mental radar. That can be especially dangerous when a motorist is changing lanes or passing through an intersection. Drivers can do their part to minimize the risk of a looked-but-failed to see collision by making a point of watching out for motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians when behind the wheel.