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Society and communities

See bike, say bike

We’ve all seen the ‘think bike’ signs on the side of the road, urging drivers to take extra care around motorcyclists.

But our most recent project at the University’s Accident Research Unit has shown that simply thinking bike may not be enough. Drivers may need to actually say it out loud too.

Motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians are among the most vulnerable users of our roads, making up almost 50% of those killed in accidents in the UK.

Many of these fatalities happen when a driver pulls out in front of another road user, known as ‘looked but failed to see’ (LBTFS) crashes or “sorry mate I didn’t see you” (SMIDSY) – the phrase that those who survive this type of crash say they often hear from the driver.

Using eye trackers to monitor the behaviour of drivers in our driving simulator and on real roads, we were able to work out that very often the problem is not in fact that the driver didn’t see the bike, but that they didn’t remember seeing the bike.

Our research in the Nottingham Integrated Transport and Environment Simulation (NITES) facility found that the driver has often looked directly at the vehicle but forgotten it by the time they actually pull out of the junction. This is a fascinating situation where an unexpected limitation in human abilities can have spectacular real-world implications.

"Accepting that some of the crashes are caused by memory failures, rather than a failure to look, suggests completely new ways to prevent them"
Dr Peter Chapman

Accepting that some of the crashes are caused by memory failures, rather than a failure to look, suggests completely new ways to prevent them.

While it may sound strange, we suggest that asking drivers to say the word ‘bike’ as soon as they see one will ensure it sticks in their memory, and will prevent them from pulling out.

When I first explain the idea to road safety professionals they tend to describe it as absurd, then I get them to do a few simple experiments and suddenly they get it and become advocates themselves. This exploration of how limitations in human memory can cause accidents is allowing us to work alongside organisations like the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) to inform future road safety campaigns and push for a change in the way drivers are taught to behave.

The research has been recently published in the journal PLOS ONE and we have met with the Department for Transport to discuss potential changes to the THINK! campaign to reflect the new findings.

We hope that it will become yet another example of our Accident Research Unit influencing road-user policy. Previous work has resulted in the introduction of the new CGI hazard perception test undertaken as part of the theory test.

Peter Chapman

Dr Peter Chapman is Associate Professor of Psychology in the Accident Research Unit, School of Psychology.

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