But if you are a regular rider this will be an experience that is all too familiar. If fate smiles upon you, you brake hard, thank ABS engineers and the makers of decent tyres, and unclench your buttocks.
But why does it keep happening? The driver did not set out to smash you off your bike or change the colour of your underwear, but the driver will swear blind they did not see you, and the usual corollary is you must therefore have been riding too fast.
Biology, psychology etc
I look at this with the eyes of a lawyer and a motorcyclist, not a scientist. Also, bear in mind the science of the car driver failing to see the motorcyclist is a mix of biology, human evolution, and psychology. It does not have the clean lines of physics.
In my view the first and most likely culprit is the evolution of the human eye. We are hunter gatherers so our eyes are developed to look for food sources.
We look for movement which draws our eye and for food to gather which requires a search. A glance, by a car driver does not pick up the single, small object – the motorcyclist, approaching the driver.
The human eye also looks for threats, so the bigger and more imposing – and therefore threatening – something is, the more urgent the brain processing.
The second is neurological. The eye receives all inputs but the brain zones out that which does not interest it. A small object moving in a straight line, in an unthreatening way, is just the kind of thing the brain zones out. Sadly, that is what we are.
With this in mind, what can we do to make ourselves more visible? The first is to make yourself bigger. There is quite compelling evidence that the three light set up beloved of the GS rider has a material impact on the willingness of car drivers to pull out. Three lights look bigger than one and drivers give this light set up a significantly wider margin before pulling out than they do the single headlight rider.
I have this three light set up on all my bikes, and contrasting clothing cannot do any harm either. But the easiest, zero cost option is to go for lateral movement.
When I did my motorcycle training back in the 1980s a fierce old motorcycle copper who took me for my training told me: ‘You’ve paid road tax son, use all the road’. And that knowledge, born of experience rather than science, told me (and you still see coppers do this) to use all your lane. Move across it, not quite from gutter to white line, but use it. This creates lateral movement which the human eye is much more attuned to.
When this wise old copper told me this MRI scans had not even been invented but MRI scans have shown that really observant people – fighter pilots – pick up lateral movement much more quickly than straight line linear movement.
Occasionally witnesses will comment that a rider has been riding all over the road’ but this is easy for me to explain, if push comes to shove, in court. And also, if you use all the road, you are much less likely to need me or any other lawyer in your corner explaining why you use all the road.
Bike Magazine December 2021