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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Look out for the little guy

For many, the bicycling and motorcycling season is coming to a close.  But for others, who ride two-wheelers all year, a possibly more perilous period may be coming.  Automobile drivers often have a difficult time recognizing bikes and cycles in the summer when they are plentiful.  During winter, however, when they are scarce, drivers may be even less likely to acknowledge them.

It’s sometimes been suggested that motor vehicle operators may “see” but not cognitively register bicyclists and motorcyclists in time to yield to them.  That theory is advanced when a typical drivers response to a collision with a two-wheeler is, “I didn’t see them.”

One school of thought as to why this happens is because vehicle drivers are looking for cars and trucks, and when they don’t see one of those, they believe traffic is clear.  That speculation was formalized during the show “Brain Games” on National Geographic network recently.

After watching that show with his wife, reader S.L. explained, “This episode is about our brain’s ability to focus attention. They mentioned the fact that one of the more common types of car/bike accidents occurs when a driver is making a left turn into traffic. Their mind doesn’t recognize the bike because they are looking for a car. I shared with [my wife] the fact that I’ve developed the habit of saying/thinking the word ‘motorcycle’ before turning so I’m mentally prepared to see a bike. Worth mentioning to others!”

I’d say that bike and cycle riders can be thankful that there are drivers like S.L. looking out for their welfare!  When encountering a left-turning vehicle approaching me on my motorcycle, I will regularly turn right onto the street they are seeking to avoid them possibly crashing into me as they turn into my path without “seeing” me.

In those left-turn scenarios, the driver may also be distracted by what they plan after the turn, and not notice traffic coming in their path.  I once had an oncoming driver with a left turn signal flashing turn directly into my driver’s door as I passed by.  She said she was concentrating on where she was going to park at the curb after turning, and did not see me.  And I was driving a large green truck!

So whatever “trick” or mnemonic device you employ to remind yourself to acknowledge bicycles and motorcycles operating among motor vehicles, please be aware of their presence and vulnerability, especially at intersections.  Bicycles are often operated by children, and sometimes they try to take the right-of-way even when they do not have it.  Being in the right is little consolation for having an accident causing injury or death to a relatively unprotected rider.

As mentioned, during the summer, the two-wheeled entities at least have some support in numbers, and have a reasonable chance of being seen.  But when colder temperatures set in, their rarer presence strengthens the “did not see them due to not looking for them” phenomenon.

Of course, good defensive driving by motorcyclists and bicyclists is an important element of their safety.  Unfortunately, as with automobile drivers, every rider does not drive defensively or even follow the common rules of the road. 

As always, regardless of the vehicle mix upon the roadway, good drivers must accommodate bad ones to avoid collisions and the resulting injury, death and mayhem.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at