The brain, the bike and the fighter pilot: January’s monthly challenge

1st January 2013 by

Recently I read what was probably one of the most important and fascinating articles I’ve seen on how cyclists can keep safe on the roads. You can read the whole piece here – but, in short, it tells us something very important: that when drivers tell us cyclists ‘Sorry mate, I didn’t see you there’ after a near-miss, they are most likely telling the truth. Knowing this, and knowing why it’s true, will make your beloved bike journey much safer.

The London Cyclist blog talked to a regular cyclist who also happens to be an RAF pilot and crash investigator, and this is what he had to say:

  • Our eyes have evolved to spot predators creeping up on us but not, crucially, objects hurtling at speed, especially relatively small objects like cyclists
  • Only when we look directly at something can we register a high-resolution image of it
  • Our brains create a whole-spectrum vision of a scene by filling in detail it assumes is there but may miss crucial details – like a nearby cyclist, which our eyes can easily ‘jump over’

Crucially, in many cases this means your near-miss was not the result of careless driving but of aeons-old hard-wiring in the human brain, regardless of how much, in that moment, we want to demonise the driver.

The blog ends with some advice on how to compensate for these limitations of our poor human brains – first for drivers, then for cyclists and motorcyclists.  So your monthly challenge for this year is, if you are a cyclist, to do the following:

  • Wear high-contrast clothing – this will attract the driver’s vision and help them to see you
  • Take your cue from the driver’s head – did they sweep their gaze right across you?
  • Don’t crawl alongside the kerb – take a safe position further out in the road
  • Send us pictures of yourself in your loudest high-contrast cycling gear!

So now I’ve got the perfect excuse for getting some lurid stripey knee socks – join me!

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