Why car Drivers do not see us


We had this posted up on the old forum and thought it was important enough to post up here.

Like most of us I am always amazed by drivers that say they did not see the motorcyclist. I have found two explanations that really make sense to me.

Firstly, "motion camouflage"

Why Do Car Drivers Fail To See Bikes?
Sourced from Motorcycle News 21/06/2006, Written by Tom Rayner

MCN has teamed up with leading UK scientists in a world-first investigation to finally prove that car drivers can't see bikers. Professor Geoff Underwood from Nottingham University has received EU funding to carry out groundbreaking tests to find out why car drivers: "look, but fail to see motorcyclists".

Armed with a state-of-the-art EyeMark eye-tracker camera and a series of photos, provided by MCN, Professor Underwood's team is set to test car drivers in laboratory conditions to find out exactly what they do and don't see.
Professor Underwood said: "I want to cut the number of SMIDSY (Sorry Mate I Didn't See You) type accidents. I want to solve the phenomenon of the 'looked but failed to see' accident."

To do so he will show the participants a series of photographs of various road traffic scenarios and use the EyeMark camera to track their pupil movement.
The sophisticated technology can tell the Professor exactly when and where the car drivers are looking. In every image is a motorcyclist, in various levels of prominence. The test will attempt to discover when a rider is most visible.
The results will discover what a driver looks at first and why. For example, if bright colours attract the attention or if the drivers can spot potential hazards.

Professor Underwood has dedicated his professional career in cognitive psychology with the relationship between visual attention and skill.

He explained to MCN how a car driver waiting at a junction could look straight at an approaching biker and still fail to see them, thus causing an accident.

"The easiest way to explain this phenomenon is with the gorilla experiment," said Underwood. "A group of American students shot a film which asked the viewer to count the number of catches a group of basketball players in white tops made. Another group in black tops were also passing the ball to one another at the same time.
"You are so busy trying to watch the white team that you completely miss the fact that a man in a gorilla suit walks into the middle of the screen and waves at you. It's only when you watch the film for a second time and are told to look for a gorilla that you see it - you won't believe you missed it first time because it's so obvious.

"The theory is the same for car drivers - they sit at a junction looking left and right for oncoming cars, vans and lorries. Because they're not expecting to see a motorcyclist then they don't see a motorcyclist. "they have a hypothesis of what they think is going to happen in the world and stick to it. "it's for exactly this reason that I think the DfT's 'Think Bike' signs at the road side will focus the concentration of car drivers to consider motorcyclists."

........and secondly, to back this up a video. If you have not seen this before then ensure you concentrate on the requirement of counting the number of ball passes between the white shirt players

Wartime pilots also referred to this as "target fixation"

Do what ever you can to draw their attention

What you wear can make a difference some of the time. You need to be within the other driver's line of vision and your clothing must stand out against the background.

In one recent New Zealand study, riders wearing any reflective or fluorescent clothing had a 37% lower risk than other riders. Riders wearing white helmets had a 24% lower risk than those wearing black helmets. The study was conducted in mainly urban areas of Auckland (Wells et al, 2004).

By comparison, a summary of European research into safety measures for motorcyclists concluded that florescent clothing is effective during daylight but not against a bright background. They also found that retroflective clothing gives little improvement at night (Noordzij et al, 2001).

Day time headlights may also help but again, only if they make you stand out against the rest of the traffic. In the NZ study, riders with lights on during the day had a 27% lower risk.

Size does appear to make a difference. Small motorcycles have a smaller profile and are even less visible from the front or rear. You need all the help you can get to stand out.

♦ Do not ever assume they have seen you.
♦ Do not weave between lanes in moving heavy traffic.
♦ Learn to recognise each vehicle's blind spot and stay out of them.
♦ Try to stay long enough in each driver's rear vision mirror to make sure they have
seen you before you move on.
♦ Use your horn or rev your engine to draw attention if you think you haven't been seen.
♦ Move within your lane to improve your chance of being seen.
♦ When riding in traffic and your lane is moving freely but the lane beside you has
slowed or stopped, watch out for impatient drivers suddenly moving into your lane.

Thanks to www.motorcycleinfo.co.uk and http://en.wikipedia.org for this information
also posted on http://ozstoc.com


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Let me offer a slightly different take on this issue.

I ride with the thought firmly in my mind that 98% of other road users cannot or will not see me and that the remaining 2% will actively or negligently try to kill me.

No amount of hi-viz apparel and no amount of lighting will help a driver see you if he isn't looking. You must do all the thinking, planning & avoidance all by yourself.

I do wear hi-viz kit after dark or in very poor conditions but mostly so that when I fall off my bike I'm not a black lump lying in a dark road to be run over by the next car coming round the bend.
Let me offer a slightly different take on this issue.

I ride with the thought firmly in my mind that 98% of other road users cannot or will not see me and that the remaining 2% will actively or negligently try to kill me.

No amount of hi-viz apparel and no amount of lighting will help a driver see you if he isn't looking. You must do all the thinking, planning & avoidance all by yourself.

I do wear hi-viz kit after dark or in very poor conditions but mostly so that when I fall off my bike I'm not a black lump lying in a dark road to be run over by the next car coming round the bend.
I agree totally, l ride as if every other vehicle hasn't seen me and have a back up plan to try and avoid them


Premier Member
Totally agree - the moment I assume that I am visible I may as well lay down in the middle of the road. My safety is my responsibility, it is up to me to ensure that I am not anywhere that they can get me.

Every accident is the riders fault. EVERY SINGLE ONE.

Car pulls out in front of me? I should have read that and not been there.
Something on the road mid corner? Should have been expected
Another vehicle across the double whites? I should be leaving enough room/be able to change lines.
Truck tyre blowout right beside me? ok we're getting a little silly now but what the hell was I doing beside a truck for more than a couple of seconds?
and because there are people here that know my history: Animal strike? Yep that's on me too, I should have been more on the ball and read the situation better.

But that is a bit broader than the visibility issue here, so to re-focus - My objection to high-viz/fluro is that it gives the rider a sense that the other people can see you - THEY WON'T- and therefore encourages even the slightest, most unconscious lowering of the riders guard. Further, as fluro becomes more prevalent it give the drivers a level of diminished responsibility - "I didn't see the bike because they weren't wearing fluro" No, you didn't see the bike because you are a careless git!

The "black lump lying on the road" argument as a reason to wear it is the only one that makes any sense to me.
Don't care
Been on the road now for a touch over 40 years maybe 4/5 times a week on a bike
Me thinks the only way to survive is to understand that both the people using the road and your bike will kill you
Been hit by a truck
Came off at well over 160kph when a fool who owned the bike before me put a tube in a tubeless tyre and it punctured and once on a roundabout where trendys put down oil??? so they could drift
Yah gotta ride to survive
I wear a Flouro jacket around town on a F6B thats big with the headlights on and they still don'tsee me?
But I do like reading about surveys why cars don't see motorcyclists
Maybe they can do one on why car drivers don't see cars
Don't see pedestrians
Don't see Stop Lights
Don't, don't don't ahhhhhhh don't????????
Give way????????


Premier Member
I have definitely noticed that cars seem to notice me better with visual warnings versus audible. I've had cars continue to push me off the road onto the median with me laying on my extra loud horns the entire time. Newer cars have such good sound deadening interiors and come with such superior sound systems, a loud horn just doesn't cut it like it used to. On the other hand... Wearing the Hi Viz jacket seems to help. I don't know if other drivers can just see me better or think I'm a Motor Officer and to be honest, I don't care as long as they don't run me over. Adding the HID headlights also helped get noticed. Now... there are still cars and trucks out there trying to kill me but... it does seem like a slightly fewer number since I've been more visible.
FWIW ... my two bobs worth ...
1) Not all car drivers don't see motorcyclists.
2) Only "dip-sticks", them what engage in texting, them what are too absorbed in the latest Top 40 release or their buddies latest gizmo being described to them on their phone, or any other issue that distracts them from their driving ... me thinks it's these people who don't see the motorcycle.
3) Too many people are too easily distracted (sometimes fatally to them) by side issue stuff, including their kids in the back seat ... these people too, I would reckon don't see us motorcyclists.

To survive - and so far it has worked for me - I have taken on board the advice of the cop who took me around Perth, WA to test me for my licence back in the dim distant past . His advice, "You have to regard every other driver on the road, whether truck, car, bicycle or motorbike, as an idiot and then drive accordingly. It very closely approximates the thought, previously presented, that every other motorist on the road is out to kill you, the motorcyclist.


Premier Member
It maybe my imagination, but since I started riding the (white) K1600, I seem to get more "respect" on the roadways. With my white bike, dark riding jacket and predominantly white helmet, I have a definite impression that motorists perceive me as a copper. The bike has a big road presence and I run my Clearwaters on low beam all day as "running lights". When I come up behind cars in traffic they instinctively slow down if they happen to be checking their mirrors.

Defensive riding in traffic is many things. Most have already been mentioned here. You have to ride smart .... I don't duck and weave in and out. I sit in my lane, move up adjacent to the front of cars so they know I'm there. I make eye contact where I can. If I stay in one basic position the motorists around me get to know I'm there and I think that helps. As far cars pulling out from side roads and turning across my path ....... awareness and "covering the brake lever" can be beneficial. Trying to move too much faster than the general metropolitan traffic will bring you unstuck ...... if some dipstick does cause you grief, you need time to react.


Premier Member
The white definitely has that effect. A ZX9R looks nothing like a police bike, but paint it white and that's the first thing they think. Also most of the reason I'm going to paint the GTR - that and the fact that white bikes are awesome.


Premier Member
In Michigan they surveyed the motoring public about the easiest vehicles to notice on the road. No 1? Pohleece motorcycle. Why? Because it's a threat to,your license or wallet.

They don't notice a civiy bike, not because they don't look, but because they don't care. It's not a threat.

I think my observations gel with the OPs article. Their conclusion is that the car doesn't see the bike it doesn't expect it to be there. Add that in with the Michigan findings and you get "cars drivers don't see bikes because they don't care if it's there".

Not a huge difference, but one that will save you wasting your money trying to be more visible, unless you are using the black lump on the road post accident argument.

One of the reasons I loved my ex Pohleece K75RT. Cagers who would sit in the right hand lane on Perths freeways part Like the Red Sea for a white bike.

And yes, what Ed said, your safety is your responsibility. Yours alone.
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Premier Member

This is why good drivers don't see us and those that don't look for us will never see us!

Whilst on cycle escort duties we use whistles to gain attention, this works; sometimes.

Our ally is a mnemonic of COAST Concentration, Observation, Anticipation give Space and Time.

Love, light and kindness,



Premier Member
Riding back from Leura via the M1 on Thursday this week, I was passed by two NSW HWP motorcyclists riding in tight formation in the "fast" lane. As they went past I saw them both take a "double check" at my bike in the centre lane. I was wearing my black leather jacket and white helmet. After confirming that I wasn't "one of them" , they at least gave me a quick head-nod before moving quickly away.