Road Safety News

Drivers in Kent and Medway asked to ‘THINK BIKE’

Wednesday 3rd April 2013

Medway Council and Kent County Council are launching a new road safety campaign in partnership with Kent and Medway Safety Camera Partnership to urge drivers to be more aware of motorcyclists and pedal cyclists.

Poster boards are going up at all 77 fixed roadside safety camera sites across Kent and Medway reminding drivers to THINK BIKE.

Latest figures from the two councils show that between 2009 and 2011, 489 motorcyclists and 166 cyclists were killed or seriously injured on the county’s roads. That makes up 35% of total collisions.

Su Ormes, Medway’s principal road safety officer, said: “British motorcyclists and cyclists commonly refer to collisions in which a car driver fails to perceive a two-wheel user as a SMIDSY – short for ‘sorry mate, I didn’t see you’.

“There has been a lot of research into why motorcycles and bicycles often appear to be invisible to drivers. One theory is ‘inattentional blindness’. Drivers see at a subconscious level but because motorbikes and cycles are smaller, and therefore not perceived as a threat, they don’t register in the brain until it’s too late.

“Another theory is based on a principle called ‘motion camouflage’, suggesting bikes blend into the background and seem almost invisible to motorists as they drive directly towards them. Animals and insects use the same technique when hunting. Motorcycles are particularly susceptible to motion camouflage because they are much smaller than a car or lorry to an observer.”

The DfT estimates that SMIDSY incidents account for about 25% of all motorcycle crashes.

Steve Horton, road safety team leader for Kent County Council, said: “Quite often, it’s a case of drivers looking but just not seeing. So this campaign aims to remind motorists to think about the smaller more vulnerable road users and take extra time to look out for them, especially when pulling out at junctions.

“At the same time, we want to encourage cycle and motorcycle users to make themselves more visible by wearing suitable clothing, using headlights, even in the daytime, and thinking about their positioning while riding. Just because you can see a car approaching, it doesn’t mean that the car driver can see you.”

Click here for more information.


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The problem with advice to wear 'suitable clothing' and ride with headlights on in daytime is that the colour of clothing is only effective in overcoming motion camouflage ONLY IF it contrasts with the background. There is evidence that saturn yellow is a poor choice in rural areas in summer, yet this is what riders on these roads are being encouraged to wear. Dipped headlights are also largely ineffective as day riding lights, partly because of their design - they are intended for use at night and to keep light away from drivers' eyes - and partly because more and more other vehicles are using dipped lights or the new LED day lighting systems.

In any case, this will only work if the driver looks in the right place. Whilst there's evidence from the Netherlands that drivers are aware of two wheel riders, whether cyclists or PTWs and do take more care around them, but there's more research to suggest that all vehicle operators very quickly learn that an effective strategy on busy roads is to look for gaps rather than vehicles (not too surprising when you think about it). The vast majority of the time, it's effective enough that drivers come to rely on it. But as 'looked but did not see' accidents imply, it's also flawed in certain circumstances.

The answer to my mind is two-fold:

• To teach drivers a better 'scanning' technique which examines the whole road from the point of entry to the intended gap (just 'looking' isn't enough).
• To make riders aware that drivers aren't lazy, poorly trained or 'ignorant', but in specific circumstances their awareness of two wheelers is defeated by the built-in physiology of the brain and eye, or by the psychology of taking short cuts, something every single human being is subject to.

Finally and in my opinion, we very much need to shift away from the "look harder for bikes" angle because it gives otherwise responsible riders a hook to hang blame on. After all, a collision involves two parties - one to create the circumstances for the accident, the other to ride into it. IF the rider was properly primed to think defensively (rather than "I'm lit up like a Christmas tree therefore I must be visible") just maybe we'd reduce SMIDSY accidents.
Kevin Willams, Survival Skills Rider Training (and part of the Prince Michael of Kent award winning Biker Down team)

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Keith, if I had the answer to that I'd be a rich man! If you want more information about what we're doing locally the site administrator should be able to put us in touch.
Dave, Leeds

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Dave, I cannot disagree with you and will not ignore the situation as I take to the roads on my motorcycle. Frequently.

However this is not a new phenomenon and it's not a design fault, it is the way we were made. We have been driving now for more that one hundred years with it. Teaching or getting the message across as you put it, in whatever way possible, is only going to be a good thing.

Actually taking one's time say at a junction, be it part of a second or a few seconds longer and taking in more, a longer more lingering look will provide sufficient time in order to accurately visualise what other motor vehicles are about and to drive accordingly.

I dont see any other alternative working, as years of conspicuity hasn't worked, or anything else for that matter.
Bob Craven Lancs

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I agree with your point about communicating information. So what means do you propose to reach in excess of 35 million drivers and measure the success of such methods? At the moment the British public will be hearing about the 5,000 + people who died this winter as a result of the cold and being unable to pay their fuel bills. Unfortunately the public will prioritise their needs, and as +99% of the driving trips undertaken do not encounter conflict this will reflect the way they view things.

Having just got back into biking after 30 years, I now ride a cruiser with 3 lights on front, 135 decibel horn and am concerned about such reports. I just hope I am not a victim in the future.

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Keith, doesn't have to be about training in person, it can be about communicating the information to people through a number of channels.

Bob, the research shows this as an issue and the stats appear to back this up. Just because you've not had a collision as a result of inattentional blindness doesn't mean you haven't experienced it. If we ignore the problem or say it doesn't exist that doesn't make it go away.
Dave, Leeds

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The problem we have is that if the two things mentioned in this report ie inattentional blindness [ something we all apparently suffer from] and camouflage become the accepted norm in the courts then that may be swayed by such arguments to the detriment of the twv rider.

I have to encourage the principals of accurately viewing the road and taking in all conditions that may be dangerous, not only to me but to everyone else as well, into account. That's called consideration.

I support this old but revisited initiative and hope that it will primarily be placed in towns and villages where the vast majority of accidents occur and not just on faster country and connecting roads.(Stats show that 90% of all accidents happen within 5 miles of home).
Rob Craven Lancs

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As a biker and a member of a motorcycle enthusiasts club, almost every biker I see on the road ride with their headlights on all the time, so surely it isn't always a case of not being seen - some drivers just don't look or are not aware enough. Any campaign that seeks to improve this should be given a chance.
Bob France, Hants

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I have been driving and riding around for at least 50 years and it's only now that I am being told that I can't see properly.

I have never had that problem or at least never identified it or had it identified to me. I have as I believe always seen things that are there, be it a bike a scooter a car a van a bus a lorry, never had any problem seeing these things and I have also seen the gaps inbetween and as to whether there was anything in these gaps or not. Now I am being told that that's not right, that I can't see things. Something that I took for granted, such as looking long enough and then looking again so that I don't miss them.

This new way of thinking is alien to me and not a road that I will support or drive down.

Steve Horton, Road Safety Leader for Kent County Council agrees with me. He says this in the penultimate paragraph.
Bob Craven Lancs

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Hi peeps, for info we're starting to look more into psychological and physiological factors which determine all manner of things in relation to road safety. Hope to incorporate the main messages in future campaigns, particularly
Katherine Meehan, Kent & Medway Safety Camera Partnership

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I believe the answer is 3,352 years worth of training. 20 per course, 2 courses a day, 261 days a year. However, with multiple NDORS service providers throughout the country this will considerably reduce the actual time taken to deliver the training.

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That's the $64000 question Keith!
Dave, Leeds

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Looked but failed to see accidents are dead easy to understand once you know how brains and the visual processing system works.

Trouble is that nobody wants to know how our brains work, maybe because they think it's too difficult or that they may learn something that destroys long held beliefs, whatever the case, if we know brains, we know everything.

It's about time that the road safety industry started to study brains and brain function because if they did, a whole new world of understanding would open up before them and ignorance of human factors would be relegated to the dustbin of history.
Duncan MacKillop, Stratford on Avon

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So if the answer is to educate drivers in these new issues, what is the proposal for educating some 35 million drivers in the UK?

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Actually Bob it's far more complicated than just not looking or being lazy. Research into the way the eye and brain work together, psychological and physiological factors have shown that even if people actively look they may fail to see, process or make the correct decision.

What is needed now is to educate road users about these issues so they can make allowances for them. We also need to ensure riders are properly trained and educated too. Having right of way doesn't make it hurt any less!
Dave, Leeds

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It appears to me that there is now a positive consensus of opinion regarding so called inattentional blindness (possible defence to a smidsy). I think the answer is also to ask motorists to slow a little and look more, and look particularly for such things as motorcyclists and pedal cyclists.

On a more humerous note (if I may) I have read that this non-seeing phenomena stems from our basic survival origins in that we see the Dinasour (danger) but don't take any notice of something small like a scooter rider. Well here's news - they never had Dinasours or scooters in prehistoric days.

It's just people's laziness and glancing and not waiting or giving long enough for a good look.
bob craven Lancs

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