The Highway Code speaks of drivers ‘looking but not seeing’ motorcyclists. It suggests, rather differently, that high visibility clothing might help but beyond that is there anything we motorcyclists can do to make ourselves more visible, and if we do not is the law unsympathetic?
The law is straightforward. You as a motorcyclist are not invisible. If you are there to be seen on a proper look then not being covered in fluorescent material is not something the law takes into account.
In any event, the jury is out on whether day glow makes any difference for motorcyclists, especially in a ‘looked but did not see’ collision. This line is occasionally argued but in 25 years of trial advocacy involving motorcyclists I have heard it argued once by a barrister who used the code words to the Judge, ‘I am instructed to raise the failure of the motorcyclist to wear high visibility clothing…’ which translates as ‘I know this is a crock but I’m doing what I am told’.
Throughout the last twenty years MRI Studies have given neuroscientists a real time understanding of how the human brain processes stimuli. A small thing (like a motorcycle) approaching in a straight line is hard for the brain to perceive as movement.
MRI scans have also revealed that the human eye sees in a counter intuitive way. Rather than filling the brain up with unchanging ‘background’ the human eye scans the background, and concentrates on giving the brain signals about things which are probably more important, such as moving things which you can either eat, or be eaten by.
Static or unchanging stimuli are not processed by the brain. This is made worse by the ‘micro glance’ which is typical of careless drivers. A proper look means you are more likely to be seen but you cannot control whether you are looked at, but you can increase your chances of being perceived.
So, if you throw some lateral motorcycle movement into the mix the human brain picks up this movement and does not lose your motorcycle in the background scan. You can make yourself big by movement, but you can also make yourself larger with lights. Following the introduction of daytime running lights on cars the single motorcycle headlight can easily be lost in a sea of bright LED running lights. But there is one, small scale, study which indicates triangulated adventure bike headlights and auxiliary lights increase driver perception. But it is one small study.
When all else fails the horn is a brilliant method of piercing the consciousness of the dopiest driver. You do not need to be looking at a motorcyclist to hear the horn, and auditory signals are processed more quickly than visual signals by the brain. But all of this is avoidance. As a matter of law all you need to do is be there to be seen. Anything else is wise practice.
Bike Magazine November 2017