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  • Writer's pictureACBT London

Sorry mate, I didn't see you!

Updated: Jan 17, 2023

You’ll have someone’s eye out with that!

How many times have we heard that expression as children when playing with something? You could have a stick in your hand which in your imagination has been transformed into the flashing blade of a magnificent sword as you’re about to skewer your nemesis with whom you have been battling hard as you take over his fortress. Then some relative or other will say: “You’ll have someone’s eye out with that” and the magic is shattered, you’re back at home in the garden with a stick in your hand. And it’s always someone’s eye isn’t it?

silhouettes of children playing at swords in a sunset
You'll have someone's eye out with that!

When we are children we are taught to learn danger and avoid unnecessary risks that may cause us harm. Don’t put the hairpin in the plug socket. A plastic bag is not a toy. Look before you cross the road. Don’t eat yellow snow. Don’t pick the blackberries from ground level.

We grow up learning the reasons why those instances may cause us harm and how to avoid them. Ostensibly so we can live longer. This has been a feature of being a human since the early days of our evolution.

So it stands to reason that if we know the cause for something that can harm us we can take steps to avoid that situation in future. Right, here goes.

- Did you know that in the UK the number one cause for a road traffic collision is a vehicle turning right?

- Did you know that in London the number one cause for a motorcycle collision is due to riding too fast?

If we combine the two hazards above, in other words, the motorcyclist is riding too fast and a vehicle decides to turn right we have an incredibly dangerous set of factors. But, if on the other hand we ride a little slower and we anticipate that a vehicle may turn right at some point we stand a better chance of preventing the number one cause for me as a motorcyclist to end up in a hospital bed, or worse. Anticipation and planning are your sword and shield as an adult on a motorcyclist. Two of the most important weapons in your defensive armoury.

I’d rather meet nurses in the pub, not the hospital.

Motorcycle collision with motorcycle on the road on its side
Let's avoid this.

The result of a combination of a motorcycle on a road travelling at speed (even if not excessive speed) and a vehicle turning right may end up in the “smidsy”, an acronym that stands for “sorry mate I didn’t see you”. Usually when you hear that sentence you’re lying on the ground wondering what on earth happened and a vehicle driver is staring down at you. You’ve just collided and hopefully you’re not seriously hurt.

The common misconception is that the vehicle driver didn’t look. That can be true in some cases but often the problem is that the driver did look but didn’t see. Drivers of other vehicles also have the same programming at a cellular level that means they too want to live as long as possible so in an act of self preservation most drivers will look before turning otherwise they stand the chance of being pulverised by another vehicle.

At a molecular level we are programmed to avoid situations that may cause us to be killed whilst exploiting situations that mean we will flourish. Humans, with a larger brain and the capacity for abstract and actual thought have learned this over millions of years, fpr survival’s sake. We knew that a larger animal could kill us but we could easily kill a smaller one. So as drivers that programming means that in traffic we are aware that a vehicle larger than ours will cause us danger but not a smaller one. The average car driver will be aware of a van, a bus, a lorry. A van driver will be wary of a bus, a lorry…and so on.

We do it too, it’s not just other drivers. We take note of the large metal boxes that can kill us at a junction but aren’t so concerned about cycles and/or pedestrians, we can take them on can’t we? It is a fact of life. As real in the playground where we might avoid a bully but be a little more overpowering to some other unfortunate and less assertive kid, as much as it is on the road with more dangerous or vulnerable road users.

An old instructor buddy of mine used to always say “I’d rather meet nurses in the pub, not the hospital”. Think of that nest time you set out on the bike, whether you want to meet nurses or not, it’ll keep you grounded.

Saccadic masking.

No, it’s not a typo. It’s actually a thing. It was first discovered at the end of the 19th century. Even though I’ve been riding bikes for around thirty years I only found out about it a while ago when I completed a Bikesafe course run by the Metropolitan Police. Saccadic masking is what happens in situations when drivers do look but don’t actually see.

Motorcycle involved in a collision with a car.
Typical "SMIDSY" collision.

During the course we discussed a specific RTC (road traffic collision) involving car v motorcycle. In this example a motorcyclist was riding on a dual carriageway. His buddy was following on his own bike which had a sports camera fitted. The road had a 50mph speed limit and the two riders were out for a week end spin.

Up ahead a car approached a junction with that same dual carriageway and behind it was another vehicle fitted with a dash cam. The Police Serious Collision Investigation Unit later used both sets of footage to analyse what happened.

Footage from the following motorcycle revealed that it was travelling at 49 mph at the time of the collision. The car approaching the junction was being driven by a gentleman in his 70s who had been driving for many years. Footage from the dashcam of the car behind revealed he stopped at the junction and spent a total of 12 seconds looking left and right before pulling away. On moving off the collision with the motorcycle occurred.

In this situation neither the motorcyclist or the driver of the car did anything wrong but the collision still happened. In court later, the following question was asked: Could the motorcyclist have done anything to prevent the collision? It was deemed that had he reduced his speed by just 5mph before the junction he would have survived the collision. A tragic outcome to a combination of innocuous circumstances which, on any other day could have had such a different result. If only the car driver had arrived at the junction five seconds later. If only the motorcyclist had arrived at that point one minute later. If. Hindsight doesn’t help the poor motorcyclist in this story but we can learn from it and hopefully understand how this could have come about and how to best avoid it.

Saccades and Fixations.

No, still not a typo, yes, still writing in English! The cause of the above tragic, fatal collision and others like it could be explained by Saccadic Masking.

film strip with a motorcyclist on a motorbike
Film strip showing saccades and fixations

Imagine yourself at a junction. You stop, look left and right, maybe several times but, have you actually seen? You may think that as you scan from left to right you are seeing a steady stream of imagery but what is actually happening is that your eyes, as you pan across the road, are taking snapshots and your brain tries to fill in the gaps.

If you look at a film strip you will see images (frames) separated by black framework bands. A camera will take a number of frames each second.

For example an HD camera may be shooting 25 frames per second. Each of those frames when run together will give the viewer the impression that they are looking at a smooth seamless stream of footage where actually they are viewing individual snapshots played back at speed.

This is similar to how your eyes and brain combine when scanning the junction. Your eyes take snapshots (fixations) and they are separated by the “framework” intervals (saccades). The faster you scan from left to right the shorter the snapshots and the wider the saccades meaning that a small, vulnerable vehicle or road user like a pedestrian, cyclist or motorcyclist could reach the point of the junction inside one of the saccades meaning that at that precise moment they are actually invisible, as in this video:

Fascinating to know we possess the power of invisibility but also terrifying, and it makes sense now when we think about all those times when riding along a vehicle has pulled out on us or, worse still, knocked us off our bike.

So, the $64,000,000 question above…”what could the motorcyclist have done to help prevent the collision?”.We can learn quite a lot from it now. We can reduce our speed before we approach hazards or more dangerous locations. That allows us to anticipate a hazard and plan on how to avoid it. We can be aware that driver may be looking but not seeing so let’s give them a warning blast of the horn maybe. We can dress in a manner that makes it more easy to be seen. We can maybe adopt a different position in the road to help our visibility.

What about when we are the vehicle at the junction waiting to pull out onto the main road? Now that we know about saccadic masking will we approach that junction with more awareness? Knowledge means power and in the case of us as motorcyclists, it means safety.

We offer a range of entry level and more advanced courses where we set our training with safety as the prime result. Whether you wish to take a CBT and start riding motorcycles or wish to practice the route of your commute in to work in a safe controlled environment. You may have been away from motorcycling for a while and wish to re-learn some techniques before venturing out on two wheels again.

You may have passed your test some years ago and haven’t re-trained at any point. Or, you may be a proficient rider wishing to enhance skill and technique. Simply get in touch and we can help you out! We include a lot of information in our courses, more than just the standard syllabus content because we believe that the more you know the safer you will be.

To book our courses simply follow this link to our website: Book Online | ACBT London

We hope you have enjoyed reading the latest of our weekly blog posts designed to help you get the best out of motorcycle training and to help make you a safe rider. For more information on our courses or to book simply contact us, we’ll be delighted to hear from you!

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Next week: We look at riding your motorcycle in winter. Read it here.

©️ 2022 ACBT London Rider Training. No part of this article may be reproduced without permission.

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