Every time a rider throws a leg over a street motorcycle, they acknowledge the risk that comes with the territory. From road hazards to distracted drivers, there’s no shortage of danger on modern roadways. To help motorcyclists navigate the treacherous streets, England’s Bournemouth University studied just how drivers and riders process visual information on public roads.
Bournemouth University Ph.D. Researcher (and BMW rider) Shel Silva led the study, utilizing eye-track technology and interviews to assess the cognitive and neurological influences of both parties. While motorists and riders certainly see the road differently, they both view larger objects as threats. That means that car drivers and motorcycle pilots notice big rigs and commercial vehicles on an equal basis, but motorcycles don’t command the same amount of attention.
In addition to the eye-tracking data, the study found that a natural blind spot in the human eye can contribute to drivers not seeing motorcyclists alongside their vehicle. Silva also states that saccadic masking, a phenomenon when the brain selective blocks visual data during eye movements, could also play a part in drivers’ visual habits.
“The research is suggesting that by understanding motorcyclists' knowledge and identification of risks it is possible to better inform training and materials which appeal to motorcyclists,” noted Silva. “It is key to understand that motorcyclists do not need training about how to ride a motorcycle but would benefit from more skills regarding how to read the road and other road users.”
While the research shows that drivers should look take a more vigilant approach on the road, motorcyclists can’t always rely on the visual skill and attention span of motorists for their safety. After studying the data, Silva recommends making minor lane adjustments prior to a maneuver or turn. This will allow the motorcyclist to capture drivers’ attention and alert them to the rider’s intentions.
“I know friends and people who have died or suffered life-changing injuries after being in motorcycle collisions,” Silva concluded. “This research is really important to me and having the opportunity to help save motorcyclists’ lives is a personal honor.”