Posted on Jul 09, 2019

Why Drivers Don't See Motorcycles

We’ve all unfortunately heard it before – a downed biker is injured and the driver is stunned, claiming, “I just didn’t see him!”




In today’s day and age of texts, tweets and ever-enticing mobile apps, it’s easy to place all the blame squarely in the lap of inattentive drivers. But it turns out biology, itself, may also play a role.


“Inattentional blindness” is what causes an individual to look straight at an object, but still not see it. This lack of perception isn’t due to any kind of visual defect or malice on the individual’s part. Instead, it is caused by the brain “filling in” details of what it expects to see in its own attempt to be efficient while focusing on something else.


The phenomenon was made famous by the “Invisible Gorilla” study by psychologists Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris. In this study, a video is shown of two groups of students passing a basketball back and forth in a room, while the viewer is tasked to count basketball passes between the students in white T-shirts. The passes continue for roughly a minute, during which a man in a gorilla suit ambles onto the screen, thumps his chest and leaves. Shockingly, half of all people who watch the video and count the passes miss the gorilla entirely.


Invisible Gorilla


So how does this phenomenon translate to the street? Motorcyclists account for only about two percent of vehicles on the road in North America, so this means we’re not really “expected” on most drivers’ visual radar. They expect intersections, minivans, road signals and mail trucks, but usually not motorcycles. As such, when drivers looks down a street they expect to be clear or only have cars, they can completely miss a biker coming toward them. Additional distracting driving stimuli like texting, eating and phone conversations can, of course, only further exacerbate this problem.




Fortunately, there are a few tricks riders can employ to become more “expected.” Running with bright or custom daytime riding lights can increase visibility to drivers who expect to see headlights. Riding in a slightly diagonal motion when approaching an intersection can increase your visibility and visual profile for drivers as well.


When it comes down to it, however, the only real solution against inattentional blindness is to WATCH FOR MOTORCYCLES. Drivers need to avoid driving distractions and focus on being more aware of motorcycles so they can start expecting motorcycles. This is true especially in the spring months when riders are entering the roads again for the first time in a season.


Help fight inattentional blindness and spread the motorcycle awareness message by visiting to get YOUR FREE “Watch for Motorcycles” sticker today!