Are motorcyclists more risk prone than car drivers?

11 September 2018

Motorbike

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Question

Are motorcyclists more risk-prone than car drivers?

 

Answer

Chris Smith put this risky question from Katy to Anglia Ruskin psychologist, Helen Keyes.

Helen - There is a bit of a misperception here. So motorcyclists are certainly more vulnerable road users than drivers, in fact, motorcyclists are ten times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident than car passengers are. But it's not necessarily motorcyclists that are at fault here. So there's two reasons that drivers tend to hit motorcycles and they're to do with what we call look but fail to see errors. So this is when a driver looks up the road, a motorcyclist is coming and they see it, but they fail to notice it or take the motorcyclist into account. It's two reasons this happens. One is just straightforward visual perception. We just call it conspicuity: how conspicuous the motorcyclist is, and it just doesn't stand out against its background in the same way a car does. There’s been a really nice solution to this problem which is the inclusion of daylight running lights on motorcycles, or DRLs, which are lights that are always on during the day and we know that this can increase their visibility by up to 40% so this is fantastic. But I’m much more interested in the other type of error, the other look-but-fail-to-see error, which is cognitive conspicuity error, which is when drivers see the motorcyclist but almost don’t register the motorcyclist. This only happens with experienced drivers, so an experienced driver is much more likely to fail to spot a motorcyclist than a novice and that's quite interesting.

Chris - That sounds paradoxical isn't it.

Helen - It does! And it's because our brains are so good at using heuristics or relying on patterns that have worked before and we get - it’s not really lazy it's economical! So the brain is a very clever thing, and experienced driver who are used to looking up the road, seeing cars, taking them into account, so it's almost like we are most cognitively sometimes don't see the motorcycle or the cyclist or pedestrian because we're not expecting to. So it would be quite good if we could maybe increase cognitive awareness of motorcycles, not just visual perception.

Sam - On that, does make cyclists safer in Cambridge than in an equivalently sized city because there are so many of them relative to another city that motorists are actually more aware that they're likely to be there.
Helen - It absolutely should, so if we’re going by the cognitive conspicuity theory. It absolutely should make them more visible cognitively to drivers.

Chris - Yes and if we go by the death rate an accident rate in everything else does it bear up?

Helen - It does absolutely. Statistics are better than other parts of the country.

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