How far away is that motorcycle?

A recent study shows that the brain relies on size of an object to determine its distance and time of impact.

In Washington, D.C., and the surrounding areas, motorcycles are a common sight but along with their increasing popularity, the number of motorcycle accidents is rising. WUSA9 recently reported that the District of Columbia is not the safest area for motorcycle riders. In the spring of this year, eight riders died, almost tripling the 2014 fatality rate of three motorcycle deaths. A recent report for 2009-2013 shows that thousands of riders in the surrounding counties have been involved in collisions. In the state of Virginia, motorcycle crashes numbered over 11,000 during that timeframe.

When a motorcycle-car accident occurs, many times drivers are cited for failure to yield the right-of-way. Often, drivers claim they didn't see the motorcycle. In reality, it is suspected that they did see it but thought it was farther away than it really was.

The brain's ability to determine distance

A recent study conducted by Texas Tech University points out that the human brain relies on visual information to determine when an object will collide with the body. When an object is coming towards a person, the brain uses rules of thumb and optical invariant to determine the speed of the object and how much time there is before an impact.

The rules of thumb are considered a sort of shortcut. For example, if two or more objects are coming toward the person, the person's brain will use the size of the objects to determine distance, even if they are at the same speed and distance. The optical invariant is the image that is reflected on a person's retina. The larger the image, the further away the brain assumes it is.

Motorcycles and driver perception

Researchers tested this on participants and found that each time they were asked to choose which object would hit them first, they would always choose the larger one. This indicates that rather than use the optical invariant, their brains were relying more on the rules of thumb.

Applying this data to motorcycle accidents, it made sense to the team that when drivers see a motorcycle, its smaller visual size gives the impression that it is farther away than it is. This is further amplified when there are other vehicles on the road that are much larger. The researchers determined that the mental error made in the brain led drivers to misjudge the actual distance of the motorcycle. This would lead the driver to believe it is safe to turn left in front of the oncoming bike.

While motorcycles in Washington, D.C., can take actions to alert drivers to their presence, they cannot always prevent an accident from occurring. Therefore, they may find it beneficial to meet with an injury attorney to discuss their damages.