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Study: Drivers’ perception tied to motorcycle accidents

Written by Ankin Law Office

Another motorcycle accident in Chicago 

All too often, Illinois residents encounter headlines involving motorists failing to stop for motorcyclists. A motorcycle accident in Chicago recently occurred, clearly unfolding the scenario once again. Two men were traveling on one bike on a road in Rosemont early one morning when their motorcycle was struck by a passing motorist. The Chicago Tribune reports that the driver of the motorcycle was critically injured and suffered from internal bleeding, a broken pelvis and is currently in a coma. His passenger required surgery to repair his fractured leg. The motorist was charged in connection with the accident, and was not injured.

A study performed by researchers at The Australian National University may answer why motorists often fail to yield to motorcyclists around them. The study indicates that the high instances of these accidents on a national level may not be due to inexperience or carelessness, but is likely due to an inability for individuals’ brains to register the presence of the vehicles.

The study’s setup

To perform the study, researchers put 40 adult drivers into a driving simulator to measure driver perception. They evaluated how well drivers detect and respond to different vehicles if they appeared more often in traffic in the simulation. Drivers were asked to indicate when they noticed the appearance of a motorcycle or bus, which researchers varied for each participant. Half of the drivers were shown a high number of motorcycles and low number of buses while the other half were shown the opposite.


Despite the command to look for both motorcycles and buses, the drivers were routinely biased toward whichever vehicle they encountered most often in the simulation. When the drivers were shown more motorcycles, their detection times of motorcycles decreased, allowing them an extra three seconds in which to respond. Those who were shown more buses had an average of 4.4 more seconds to respond to buses they saw while in the simulation.

According to researchers, this indicates the presence of a low-prevalence effect in which the human brain fails to quickly register sights that are less common or foreign. Motorcycles are not a common site, so drivers have more difficulty in detecting them. This often occurs when drivers turn into the path of an oncoming motorcycle, after which they are usually cited for failure to yield. If the driver did not expect to see the motorcyclist, they simply may not see them until it is too late.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 2,624 motorcyclists were killed in accidents involving other motor vehicles in 2012, and that number is not abating. Researchers state that the prevalence of these accidents will only continue unless drivers take the time to become educated on how to look for all types of vehicles on the roads.