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Study Finds Psychological Cause For Motorcycle Accidents

Posted on behalf of D'Amico & Pettinicchi, LLC on Jan 10, 2014 in Motorcycle Accidents

In recent years, the U.S. has experienced a reduction in the incidence of serious accidents involving cars and small trucks. Unfortunately, however, the number of motorcycle accidents has increased over the same period. Although a variety of factors contribute to the occurrence of motorcycle accidents, a new study suggests that drivers' failure to correct for a quirk of human psychology may contribute to causing accidents in some cases.

Researchers at Texas Tech University examined the ways in which a particular object's size can affect a person's ability to perceive its distance. Their study, published recently in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science, found that small, close objects can sometimes appear to be farther away than large, far away objects. The team suggests that this may contribute to drivers' inability to accurately gauge motorcyclists' speed and distance, which in turn can lead to serious accidents.

According to the researchers, the human brain uses two sets of visual information to calculate probable time to impact. First, the brain uses the image of an object reflected on the retina. As the object gets closer to the viewer, it appears larger. The rate at which this occurs provides the brain information about the object's speed. Second, the brain uses certain shortcuts, based on experience, to fill in gaps and make guesses about an object's position and speed. When it comes to viewing smaller objects, these shortcuts can lead to a person believing an object to be farther away than it actually is.

As part of the study, researchers measured test subjects' ability to determine distance and speed using a computer simulator. They found that people usually rely on less reliable shortcut information, rather than visual information, to determine the point at which they were likely to make impact with an object.

Although further research is needed, the Texas Tech researchers suggest that their findings could help explain why drivers so often misjudge the location of motorcyclists. This does not, of course, absolve drivers of responsibility for the accidents they cause. The reality is that drivers should take this fact into account when they encounter a motorcycle on the roadway.

Motorcyclists should take steps to ensure that they are safe when they are sharing the road with cars. This includes not only wearing safety gear, but also being aware of the locations and speeds of other vehicles. By driving defensively, motorcyclists can help protect themselves from drivers who are not watching the road carefully enough.