Road Safety News

Report delves into ‘failed to look’ collisions

Thursday 27th February 2014

A new report looks in detail at collisions in the north east of England where ‘failed to look properly’ was recorded as a contributory factor.

The report, compiled by the North East Regional Road Safety Resource, analyses casualty stats from collisions that occurred in the north east region of England between 2008 and 2012, in which at least one driver or rider involved was judged to have ‘failed to look properly’.

Peter Slater from the North East Regional Road Safety Resource, said: “We chose this topic for detailed investigation because while ‘failure to look properly’ is the most commonly recorded contributory factor in collisions in the north east, and across the country as a whole - being listed as a factor in 38% of all collisions - there is relatively little published research into the specific details of the collisions.”

The report indicates that people are more likely to ‘fail to look properly’ on urban roads where there is a 30mph speed limit, and especially when negotiating a junction.

It also shows that almost half of all incidents (49%) were ‘car on car’ - where a car driver ‘failed to look properly’ and then collided with another car.

It also shows that in more than 40% of incidents in which motorcyclists and pedal cyclists were hit by a car or medium goods vehicle, the vehicle driver was adjudged to have ‘failed to look properly’.

The full report - Analysis of Casualties from Collisions Involving Drivers or Riders who ‘Failed to Look Properly’ in North East England, 2008–2012 – is available on the North East Regional Road Safety Resource website, and will shortly be added to the Road Safety Knowledge Centre.

For more information contact Peter Slater on 0191 433 3165.


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Bob, it is errors in the analysis of optic flow field dynamics that are one of the main reasons behind such common accidents as rear end shunts etc. Others would have you believe that such accidents are caused because drivers just don't care enough. I wonder which of the two viewpoints is the most valid?
Duncan MacKillop, Stratford on Avon

Agree (3) | Disagree (1)

There is something in what Derek Reynolds brings to mind about sight and from the article in Herts. There is a phenomena known as 'optical flow', in which the eyes see and the brain disseminates information and filters out such information which is not considered of any or little consequence.

An example given was: take a passage and have it lined horizontally with black and white stripes so whilst passing through it all visually appears to be the horizon and leads the eyes forwards. Under such circumstance one travels faster. However, place the same black and white lines vertically and the eyes perceive these as less constant, perhaps obtrusive and cluttered, and as such one will travel past them slower.
bob craven Lancs

Agree (2) | Disagree (0)

Maybe there shoud be an all-encompassing contributing factor simply called: 'Didn't think'. Would cover most scenarios including 'failed to look'. The DfT's long-running campaign isn't called 'THINK' for nothing - unfortunately too many drivers and riders don't.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (2) | Disagree (2)

From all of the comments so far it is becoming clear that there are some significant human factors and limitations in play during the driving task and particularly with vision and perception. I first asked in this thread what exactly is 'looking properly' and yet 17 people disagreed with me that this was a valid question to ask.

Rather than disagreeing I would have thought that people would have leapt at the chance of answering the question because it does cut to the very heart of the problem. What is looking, what is seeing, what is perception, what are the perceptual error forms, is it true that the brain creates everything it sees, what are the limitations of the eye, what are the limitatiions of short term memory - the questions are almost endless and yet if we don't even attempt to answer them we will never learn anything. As I have mentioned before if we understand brains, we understand everything and so it's about time we started that process of understanding.

I wonder how many readers are actually interested in learning more about brains? I would hope that everybody does, so click 'Agree' if you really do want to know more and click 'Disagree' if you don't.
Duncan MacKillop, Stratford on Avon

Agree (6) | Disagree (4)

If as Malcolm suggest "saccadic masking" is a big issue, then the general motorist must be coping with it exceptionally well. Considering the billions of junctions that are negotiated each day the number of incidents are absolutely miniscule. However, any incident will have a detrimental effect on an individual and family.

Agree (4) | Disagree (0)

At a TRL Cycling Seminar about a decade ago a comparison of international statistics showed that as cycle use went up the injury rate went down for cyclists (not surprising) but also pedestrians and motorcyclists. I have a theory that when a driver’s visual system is only used to seeing wide (4 wheel) vehicles it assumes that all narrow objects (including pedestrians, cyclists & p2w) are on the footway/pavement and are static – thus can be ignored. Therefore the more cyclists the safer motorcyclists and pedestrians will become.
Mark - Caerphilly

Agree (3) | Disagree (0)

The most likely explanation for a high proportion of 'failed to look properly' accidents is 'saccadic masking' which, like motion induced blindness, is a function of the way in which the brain and eyes process visual information. It is explained at This really should be the focus of a major road safety eduction campaign. Pilots have been taught about it for years. If drivers have never been told how to 'look properly' - and why - should they be punished for their ignorance?
Malcolm Heymer, Dereham, Norfolk

Agree (4) | Disagree (1)

SMIDSY – Sorry Mate I Didn’t See You.

All motorcyclists have heard this phrase if involved in an accident that has caused them to be knocked off of their motorbikes, and I’m sure many cyclists also – I know it has happened to me on both forms of two wheeled transport. The link through Idris Francis’s post is most telling in the ability for out eyes to mis-inform the brain:

The Police are limited to box ticking. Not everything fits into a box. And not everything is understood as it actually is.

In the last edition of Herts Biker (a free magazine for motorcyclists produced by Herts Road Safety Unit and supported by the Police, motorcycle dealers and training organisations: - ran an article in issue 10 (IIRC) based upon what we ‘see’ from instincts that pre-date the wheel.

The thesis is that as we originated as hunters, we developed a sense of recognising a prey which walked on all fours – in essence, a horizontal mode rather than in a vertical mode. When driving or riding, we look and more easily recognise movement that is in the horizontal mode – cars, vans etc., - than motorcycles and cyclists which appear in the vertical mode. The simple (or not!) act of training the mind to recognise both modes is one vital step towards better understanding of how people look but do not see – and changing it. There is also the fact that our eyes are placed within our heads in the horizontal plain, and as such are more easily calculate movement and speed of movement as objects approach or retreat rather than those object that approach in the vertical plain. As two wheeled riders are also more inclined to be disguised or ‘hidden’ amongst other vertical street furniture and windscreen pillars, we are trebly in trouble from SMIDSY.
Derek Reynolds, Salop.

Agree (7) | Disagree (0)
+7 explains how failing to see despite looking is not by any means blameworthy, but due to the way we see and the way minds interpret what they see.

I understand why Richard Owen would like to see 2 different causal factors, but perhaps they were combined into one because those involved, including the police, are unable to differentiate between the two even if they are aware of the problems?
Idris Francis Fight Back With Facts Petersfield

Agree (7) | Disagree (7)

Interesting article! Less than an hour ago I gave first aid to a lady knocked down by a driver turning into a junction after being 'flashed' by the driver with right of way. It does make me think how easily many people forget to look after being flashed to pull out or turn in somewhere.
James, Publisher FirstCar magazine

Agree (19) | Disagree (0)

Can't really see any benefit in researching one contributory factor in isolation - that's assuming such instances had been correctly assessed by the Police in the first place. Anyway, is it not fairly obvious that if a driver/rider collides with another road user, that one may have not seen the other in time (if at all) or, even having 'seen' the other, simply misjudged distance/speed/position etc. anyway? In other words carelessness or recklessness as usual, so perhaps a holistic approach to dealing with this behaviour may be better, rather than focussing on just one aspect.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (2) | Disagree (13)

John has hit the nail on the head. The satisficing label and its tick box is part and parcel of the Stats 19 form so the poor Copper filling it out has no alternative but to use it.

We have known for decades that there are significant limitations to the human visual system that allows for these sort of events to happen, but nobody seems to be the least bit interested in finding ways in which these errors could be trapped or strategies worked out to minimise the consequences of the error.

Reports like this one are a good place to start our investigations, not as a place at which to end them.
Duncan MacKillop, Stratford on Avon

Agree (12) | Disagree (6)

CF405 would also include 'Inattentional Blindness', which is a real problem for cyclists as they are often a victim of this psychological phenomenon.

Differentiating between collisions where someone didn't look properly and where the did look but didn't see (possibly due to inattentional blindness) is very difficult as they aren't separated out any more.

Before 2005 there were two Contributory Factor (CF) codes 14 - 'Failed to look' and 15 'Looked but did not see'.

I'm sure we would all agree that failing to look is tantamount to careless driving but the weaker CF is open to interpretation.

One of the big questions about CF405 is, is it the most common CF because it is the most common cause of the crash or because it is the easiest box to tick? I personally would welcome a return to the old codes as it would at least help us in cases of significant fault.
Richard Owen, Banbury

Agree (10) | Disagree (4)

Is it not reasonable to say that where a driver or rider collides with another road user at a junction, their immediate defence is likley to be "failed to look or see"? In the absence of any other corroborative evidence what else can the police actually put down on stats 19? So therefore it is likely to rank very high as a contributory factor in such incidents. No real news there.

Agree (10) | Disagree (3)

Perfectly correct as far as Stats 19 goes Peter, but stating the failure mode is not the same as understanding the failure mode. Just applying a satisficing label to the error does not help us to prevent similar accidents from occurring again, and in fact it actually encourages these accidents to occur over and over again.
Duncan MacKillop, Stratford on Avon

Agree (4) | Disagree (21)

Duncan, the best that I can do for you is to quote the information that the police see on the Stats 19 guidance (Stats 20) for this contributory factor:

"A driver/rider either failed to look where they were going or they looked, but misinterpreted what they saw (looked but did not see). Code may be used where the driver/rider was not paying attention to the road ahead.”

I hope that this helps clarify the term and why it is a contributory factor.
Peter Slater, North East Regional Road Safety Resource

Agree (25) | Disagree (1)

What exactly is 'looking properly'? I think we need to know what it is before we can say that it's a contributory factor.
Duncan MacKillop, Stratford on Avon

Agree (4) | Disagree (22)