See Us…

By Steve Briscoe

Most of us have been driving since we were sixteen years old. After years of driving we have conditioned our brains to look for obstacles and obstructions as we drive. We pride ourselves in an ability to maintain situational awareness at a glance.  With this quick glance we can see cars and big trucks all around us; which ones are close and which ones might pose a threat.  We collect data on the status of the traffic lights, street signs, pedestrians, the location of local law enforcement… the list is endless. This is a good thing, it keeps us, those with us, and those around us from harm as we drive.

However, with this conditioning comes complacency.  Most drivers have conditioned their brains to collect risk data on all the cars in the vicinity; however, more often than not, a motorcycle in front of the car focused on by the driver will go unnoticed. Why? Because the brain is conditioned to focused on the car; the car is the threat, not the motorcycle. There have been a number of studies conducted on this phenomenon (here’s one).  I could get into all the facts about what the eye actually sees, what is sent to the brain, that everyone has a blind spot right in the center of their eye that the brain filters out and, regardless of what you think, that the brain can focus on, albeit short, only one thing at a time… but I’ll not get into all that. Mainly because the words have way too many syllables and I’d have to look up all those definitions. Suffice it to say, to see something, you have to want to, and unless you ride, most people just do not consider the motorcycle. Have you ever tried to find something on your desk only to find it ten minutes later right in the middle of your desk; you looked at it 50 times and didn’t see it. You were looking for it, but your brain was doing something else.

In like fashion, most of us will position the mirrors on our cars to reduce the blind-spot as much as possible; most mirrors are large enough and have a slight curve that will completely eliminate the possibility of a car hiding in the blind spot. But a blind spot can still hide a motorcycle. Most riders are all too familiar with the danger associated with a blind spot—known as the kill zone—and will maneuver to steer clear of them because we know most drivers will not check the blind spot before changing lanes, but sometimes traffic makes this safety measure difficult.

“…but Officer, I didn’t see him!”

There have been several occasions while out riding, I’ve seen drivers in oncoming traffic look right at me then promptly turn left in front of me, then act surprised when I slam on the brakes.  They looked right at me, appeared to make eye contact, but did not see me because I was not in a car; I was not a threat, at least not then. They’re really surprised when I follow them to their house.

When a car hits a motorcycle the first thing said is, “But Officer, I didn’t see them!” Chances are they looked directly at the motorcycle but their brain was on autopilot and they were oblivious to the carnage they were about to inflict.

We’ll not discuss the cell phone texting thing. That is just a flagrant lapse in responsibility and should be treated as such. Imagine their irritation when I ride right next to their window as they chat and I down shift to get a bit more rumble from the pipes.  As you drive your car there are hundreds of things going on around you that you do not notice because you don’t need to notice. As a rider we focus on everything.  Any car within 100 feet of us, at a moment’s notice, can inflict great pain and death because we know the likelihood of a distracted driver is significant; it’s hard not to keep that in mind.

Do yourself a favor; do me a favor. When you drive, or when you are a passenger, make a mental effort to count the number of motorcycles you encounter from any direction. After a while your brain will start to pick up on them and you will no longer have to make the concerted effort to see them, you will see them instinctively.  In the meantime, take an extra half second to really look. Take that instant just before changing lanes to lean forward in your seat or turn your head to the right and check the blind-spots. I really don’t have the time to follow you home and educate you on the responsibilities of driving a car.

The rider you won’t hit could be me; it could be a family member, a friend, a co-worker, an associate or a stranger.  If, due to a lapse in judgement, you kill a rider, it will change your life forever; trust me on this.

© 2019 Steve Briscoe, All Rights Reserved

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