Pioneering research shows motorcyclists and car drivers see things differently

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A research project looking into motorcycle accidents and injury prevention has found differences between motorcyclists’, and car drivers’ visual attention.

The research by Bournemouth University PhD researcher Shel Silva, is jointly funded by motorcycle charity DocBike and Bournemouth University. Novum Law is providing financial support to DocBike to help fund this vital project.

Shel’s study assesses motorcyclists’ and car drivers’ neurological (brain) and cognitive (thinking) influences.  Her latest findings suggest bikers and motorists see things quite differently. They may be viewing completely different things, even while on the same stretch of road.

How drivers and motorcyclists see things differently

The pictures below show the difference for 3 car drivers and 3 motorcyclists viewing the same stretch of road which contains a pothole.

Road with a pothole


How drivers see the road

driver potholes

How motorists see the road

motorist potholes

In motorists, the brain naturally sees larger objects, like lorries, as threats rather than motorcycles, which are much smaller. This means that a motorbike can easily get lost in a car driver’s field of vision, especially if there is a large vehicle immediately behind it.

The research also found that the way a motorcyclist identifies, perceives, and understands potential risk is different depending on their motorcycling qualifications and experience.

Shel Silva explains:

“The research suggests that by understanding motorcyclists’ knowledge and identification of risks it is possible to better inform training and materials which appeal to motorcyclists.

“It is key to understand that motorcyclists do not need training about how to ride a motorcycle but would benefit from more skills regarding how to read the road and other road users.

“I know friends and people who have died or suffered life-changing injuries after being in motorcycle collisions. This research is really important to me and having the opportunity to help save motorcyclists’ lives is a personal honour.”

Shel uses eye-tracking equipment to monitor bikers’ visual attention while watching videos and viewing images of roads known to have a high number of motorcycle collisions.

Other stand-out findings from the research include:

  • Motorcyclists look at the road surface more than car drivers. This is understandable considering statistics indicate that approximately 75 motorcyclists are killed or seriously injured each year due to poor road surface.
  • Motorcyclists look at other motorcycles more frequently and for longer than car drivers. Indeed, some car drivers are not looking at motorcyclists at all. These visual attention patterns are likely due to a phenomenon called Salience Bias, where something of personal interest will draw attention.

Shel suggests an effective way for motorcyclists to be seen when approaching a junction is to make a lateral movement, for example moving to the centre of the road near the white lines. The movement can trigger a ‘visual orienting’ response in other road users, helping to draw their attention to the motorcyclist. Additionally, the lateral movement should help overcome other visual obstructions for the car driver, such as the pillars surrounding the car windscreen or roadside foliage.

Shel was recently interviewed on BBC South Today about her ground-breaking research.

Novum Law supports DocBike

Tim Blackwell, Director at Novum Law and a Trustee of DocBike, says:

“Novum Law is very proud to support DocBike, a national charity working to eradicate motorcycle deaths through training, education, and research into injury prevention and critical roadside care. It is through our financial support that the charity can jointly fund Shel Smith’s vital PhD research.

“The partnership between DocBike and Bournemouth University will bring significant benefits to motorcyclists through a deeper understanding of direct injury prevention for riders.”

If you or a loved one has been involved in a motorcycling accident that wasn’t your fault, our specialist team of personal injury solicitors can help you receive the best medical treatment and rehabilitation available and secure maximum compensation.

For expert legal advice on making a motorcycle accident claim, call Novum Law on 0800 884 0777, email or complete our online enquiry form.

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