When crash investigators look into the causes of collisions between cars and motorcycles, they hear many drivers say the same thing. “I didn’t see them. They just came out of nowhere.”
However, the results of recent experiments show these all-too-often fatal tragedies are not from failures to see motorcycles but from seeing motorcycles and immediately forgetting them.
The results hint that talking about your driving could help you see, remember and then decide to avoid motorcycles. Talk to yourself and save lives, they suggest.
Using a simulator to watch drivers see and forget
Researchers from Nottingham, England, wanted a better grasp of why motorcyclists suffer so many more crashes. And they wondered why there are so many crashes that experts label as “Look But Fail To See” (LBFTS)?
They put drivers behind the wheel of a real BMW Mini in a high-quality simulator. They then had them deal with different situations, monitoring the details of the driver’s eye movements, decisions and other actions and reactions.
The researchers found that drivers who hit simulated motorcyclists often saw them clearly. But they then saw a few other things before pulling into traffic and hitting the biker.
These were not LBFTS crashes after all. They were “Saw But Forgot” (SBF) crashes.
Talking to yourself to remember what you see
Studies have long shown that our brains have two separate kinds of memory. One is short term and designed to wipe itself clean often. Sometimes, it sends certain memories to the other, longer-term memory system.
The Nottingham study suggests ways to make short-term visions of approaching bikers stay in a driver’s memory long enough to prevent SBF crashes and save lives.
One possibility is to speak. When the driver sees the motorcycle, they could say, “Bike!”
This “phonological loop” could help drivers “overcome the limited capacity of short term visuo-spatial memory,” the researchers say.
Instead of the biker being just another moving shape in a busy-looking world, the driver might more fully grasp the reality of a vulnerable human coming at them fast.