Goodbye to SMIDSY with ‘See bike, say bike’?

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Published on 16 January 2020 by Mike Waters

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Filed under Category: Features

In June 2019, the BMF attended Parliament to discuss the launch of a study into so-called ‘Looked but failed to see’ crashes. Here, Charlie Bliss explores the psychology behind these collisions and how a new campaign could help protect riders

“Sorry, mate. I didn’t see you.” - If you had a quid for every time that has been said to a motorcyclist, by now you could probably get yourself a Vincent Black Shadow...

Visibility – or conspicuity of some kind – is a pressing safety concern for motorcyclists. We are all familiar with the type of situation that leads to the comment above: you make yourself seen by the vehicle in front but, just as you’re about to pass and enter their blind spot, the indicator flicks on and the motorist in front merges lane without right of way. Sometimes it’s just annoying and inconsiderate, but this kind of traffic violation can easily have lethal consequences for riders.

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Encouragingly, statistics from the last 50 years have showed consistent reductions in fatalities on British roads. However, progress has reached a plateau since 2012 and the number is now stubbornly hovering around 1,750 casualties per year. So why has this long trend of progress hit the brakes?

Enter Dr Peter Chapman, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Nottingham, who has co-ordinated a new study into the phenomenon of ‘Looked but failed to see’ (LBFTS) crashes. His work highlights some alarming statistics for riders and other vulnerable road users, and we must remember that motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians make up more than 50% of fatalities on UK roads.

Now you see me, now you don’t
According to Dr Chapman’s study, right of way violations are responsible for the deaths of approximately 100 British motorcyclists per annum. However, the most forward-looking conclusions from the report lie in the field of psychology. Dr Chapman argues that these crash scenarios are often caused by a simple trick of the mind and proposes an ingenious solution to help overcome the recent years of stunted progress.

“We suggest that the majority of LBFTS errors on real roads may have been misclassified and actually occur due to a memory deficit. We find that drivers often forget vehicles – particularly motorbikes – that they have looked at just seconds earlier. This surprising result is consistent with recent findings in psychology suggesting that people have very limited visual memory.”

Dr Chapman argues that dozens of deaths could be prevented each year through the introduction of a national road safety campaign entitled: ‘See Bike, Say Bike’. His policy recommendation encourages motorists to say the word ‘bike’ out loud at the moment they see one. Evidence in memory research shows that this simple action could cement the presence of the bike in the driver’s short-term memory, leading to substantial reductions in collisions that occur when pulling into a road or changing lanes.

“It is not enough to just think ‘bike’. When drivers see a motorcycle at a junction, they need to remember it. Saying ‘bike’ out loud raises their chances of doing so. An intervention based on this idea – a ‘See Bike, Say Bike’ campaign – could dramatically reduce motorcyclists’ deaths, and potentially those of other vulnerable road users.” 

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On Her Majesty’s Service
With that in mind, the BMF travelled to Parliament on June 6 2019 – the only rider activist group invited – to discuss the potential campaign in light of Dr Chapman’s findings. The meeting was hosted by Lillian Greenwood MP, chair of the Transport Select Committee, while Michael Ellis MP, then the Minister of State for Transport, was also present.

BMF Political and Technical Services Director Anna Zee attended as our representative. Anna is also our Government Relations Executive and a member of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS): “The event at Parliament was intended to present the research findings and suggest that ‘See Bike, Say Bike’ could be implemented as a new national safety campaign. It’s an interesting finding and I think it would be worth supporting.

“It applies equally to bicycles and motorcycles. The campaign bears some comparison with the ‘Dutch Reach’ idea – whereby car occupants are encouraged to open the car door using the hand furthest from the door. This movement involves turning the body, which means they are more likely to observe bicycles and motorcycles approaching from behind.”

The research is yet to be published as an official report. However, representatives from the University of Nottingham have informed Rider that the paper is soon to be published in the academic journal, PLOS One

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Maximising the wellbeing of all road users while reducing the number of motorcyclists killed or severely injured in traffic collisions are all major concerns for motorcycle safety advocates. From this angle, Dr Chapman’s suggestion looks to make some headway.

The simplicity of the campaign is key to its success. This will ensure that it is easily remembered by motorists and is self-enforced at the wheel. And we have learned that simple psychological techniques can make a big difference when it comes to split-second decisions on the road. 

That said, it is still too early to tell if a government-approved campaign will materialise – watch this space. In the meantime, each motorcyclist will do well to keep themselves front and centre of other motorists’ minds. Amplifying your presence on the road and improving how easy it is to notice your motorcycle will lead to increased awareness and therefore a higher standard of safety for yourself and others.

The attention of road users is more scattered than ever, due in part to satnavs and smartphones distracting drivers from the road. As a motorcyclist, it is essential not only to get yourself seen, but to get yourself remembered. Hopefully, we will soon see a national rollout of ‘See Bike, Say Bike’ with the Department for Transport’s stamp of approval but, until then and even afterwards, make sure you’re doing everything you can to stay visible. 

Tips to maximise your visibility

1. Wear hi-vis safety gear
A recent survey into motorcyclist attitudes by the National Cooperative Research and Evaluation Programme (NCREP) found that most bikers prefer not to wear hi-vis because its appearance is considered unappealing. However, one study found that riders are 37% less likely to be involved in a crash while wearing hi-vis clothing. 

2. Ride a brightly coloured bike
Bright bikes are intended to turn heads. Loud colours aren’t just an expression of personality and that rebellious biker spirit – they’ll get you noticed too. Keep that in mind the next time you’re looking to splurge on a new ride. 

3. Use reflective tape
A cheap but effective tool to increase conspicuity during those beloved night rides. Apply reflective tape on the front of your forks, around the wheel rims and any part of your bike that sticks out from a light source, such as the edges of panniers. Your bike will create the impression of a much larger object from a distance in the dark. 

4. Install auxiliary lights
Research by Honda demonstrates that recreating the shape of a human face on the front of your motorcycle improves motorists’ ability to accurately determine how far away the bike is. This is because people possess an innate ability to recognise faces. Installing auxiliary lights that loosely resemble a human face could go some way to ensuring that you remain seen.


This article originally appeared in the Autumn 2019 edition of BMF Motorcycle Rider.

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