They look, but they do not see

They look, but they do not see

Doing my job gives me an unusual perspective on how motorcycle accidents happen and if there is a common thread, it is car drivers failing to perceive motorcyclists.

I do not use the word see. If a driver is looking in your direction, he or she sees you but may not perceive you. But I see far too many cases where the rider is there to be seen but nevertheless the driver pulls out.

The driver either confesses, alleges speed or if all else fails, says the rider should have made himself more visible, by donning high vis. That argument has a superficial attraction. The obvious remedy is to go high vis, but the science is ambivalent. There are some studies which say it modestly reduces risk, others say it has no discernible effect. The Highway Code offers little support for this proposition and says it may help.

The real problem is what happens in real world collisions is unscientific, unrecorded and biased. What we know is we motorcyclists do not figure high in the things drivers perceive. The consensus I pick out from the various studies which are most often cited by collision investigators and tied in with my thousands of miles from 30 years of riding and 22 years of working as a solicitor for motorcyclists is…

  • Make yourself big: the human eye sees big things as close and I am a fan of auxiliary riding lights and I like the trend of spacing bike headlights as wide apart as they can go.
  • Move laterally: a small light coming towards the human eye in a straight line is barely picked out as moving, make it move from side to side, and it is perceived as movement.
  • Most of all drivers need to look, not glance: studies carried out on fighter pilots reveal a micro glance misses a great deal of micro glance you are best getting yourself seen.

But the law is very clear. You need make no special effort to make yourself seen. Judges often positively comment on high visibility gear and some draw an inference of a safer rider from it, but in 22 years of Court work I have never heard a Judge draw a negative inference of failing to wear high visibility or bright motorcycle apparel. But when you have examined as many motorcycle accidents as I have, you pick up three threads: a small object, if seen, is perceived as far away; witnesses perceive a bike when it moves laterally [witnesses often say, ‘I first saw the bike as it tried to pull around the car,’]; and the most common thing I hear from riders side swiped at junctions is, ‘he looked at me, looked the other way and pulled out,’ which is regularly confirmed by other witnesses.

Posted by Andrew Dalton. Posted on: November 12, 2015 at 12:00 am

Andrew Dalton is a highly experienced trial lawyer who delights in taking on difficult and demanding motorcycle cases. He has a tough and relentless litigation style and is utterly focused on getting the best possible outcomes for his clients.