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Why your brain tells you there is no motorcycle approaching

You may have seen bumper stickers warning you to watch out for motorcycles. As a careful driver, you may wonder why this reminder is necessary.

It is not just because people miss seeing motorcycles. According to scientific research, drivers may see motorcycles. The problem is that the brain does not register what it sees.

Sensory overload

The amount of information your brain has to process every second is overwhelming. There is no way for the human brain to pull all the sensory details it experiences into a complete picture at any given moment. So, it creates shortcuts, particularly in unfamiliar situations. It is these shortcuts that make a motorcycle "invisible."

Motorcycle size and distance

A larger object and a smaller object at the same distance do not appear to be at the same place. Objects appear larger as they get closer, so a smaller object looks farther away, even if it is not. Motorcycles seen from the front are a third the size of the average vehicle, and this is why motorists tend to misjudge their distance.


Now, back to the matter of your brain's shortcuts. Say you pull up to a stop sign. You look left, then right, then left again for safety, just as you learned in driver training. When you looked to the left, you saw a motorcycle approaching, but your brain misjudged the distance. When you looked back to the left, your brain held the assumption made about the first image: The motorcycle is far away.

Even though your eyes "saw" the motorcycle, your brain told you it was not there yet. If you pull into the street at that moment, the motorcyclist could strike the side of your vehicle, possibly flying over your hood and hitting the pavement beyond.

Motorcyclist protection

Most motorcyclists may not understand the science behind it, but they know drivers may not see them. The best thing they can do is wear bright, contrasting colors, keep their headlight on at all times and watch drivers at intersections for signs of the vehicle pulling out in front of them.

As a driver, being aware of your brain's tricks can help you remember to consciously register where the motorcycle is on that second look so you can prevent a potentially devastating accident.

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