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Why Drivers Fail To See Motorcycles In Time To Prevent Accidents

There are certain behaviors that are often associated with car, truck and motorcycle accidents. When an accident occurs, it is expected that drivers who were distracted, drunk, speeding, inexperienced or aggressive will be to blame. There is no shortage of drivers who fit these categories on the road. Motorcycle accidents may involve an additional issue: Driver's whose brains trick them into miscalculating the distance and speed of the motorcycle. The way our brains are trained to process information may be leading automobile drivers to cause accidents with motorcycles. The problem is finding a way to combat the problem.

Research conducted at Texas Tech University analyzed the way the human brain perceives motion and direction. The study identified two methods by which we judge this information. The first method is characterized by an optical invariant, meaning a determination made by determining how large the object appears to us over time. The closer the object, the larger it appears as it approaches. The second method short circuits the process and simply perceives larger objects as closer and smaller objects as farther away.

Computer simulations were conducted showing a large object far away and a small object very near. Participants were asked to identify which object would collide with the viewer first. They regularly chose the large object, despite the greater distance.

Part of the problem lies in the expectations of most drivers. Cars and trucks are a much more common sight than motorcycles. Repetition trains drivers to believe that an object, any object, which is a certain size is a certain distance away. When the object is a motorcycle, they may seriously overestimate the distance that separates them. That could cause them to pull out in front of the motorcyclist or cut the motorcycle off in traffic, resulting in a serious accident.

Source: Claims Journal, "Vehicle/Motorcycle Accident Link to Brain Miscalculation: Study," 10 September 2013

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