What’s wrong with this hi-vis colour scheme?

Answer – it’s ‘disruptive camouflage’

I’ve commented often enough on how the emergency services have done a lot of research into what’s best at transforming a visible vehicle (ie, one that is in your line of sight and capable of being seen) into a conspicuous vehicle (ie, one that stands out against the background). And if you’ve taken a ‘Biker Down’ course you may well have heard my ‘Science of Being Seen’ presentation delivered to you.

So what you’re looking at are two machines from Ambulance Victoria’s paramedic motorcycle unit in Australia. After a three year trial found motorcycle paramedics have a better response time than traditional ambulances, they’ve been added permanently to the strength.

The BMW F700GS motorcycles are specifically designed for emergency services, and come factory fitted with warning devices, better braking systems, satellite navigation, upgraded suspension, dual batteries, and wiring already in place for all communications equipment. They carry a smaller version of defibrillators, trauma kits and medications used by other paramedics.

The bikes responded to almost 3000 cases last and move through “…heavy traffic… through traffic jams to get to accident scenes quickly… and access Melbourne’s bike paths and walking tracks”.

So that’s their function and given what they do, it’s a bit of a puzzle the way these bikes are dressed up.

The multiple colours and broken patterns are a pretty good imitation of a disruptive camouflage pattern – specifically designed to make objects harder to see!

What about headlight modulators

(Originally published on FB 25 March 2019, mildly edited)

What about headlight modulators?

Headlight modulators have been the subject of investigations on a number of occasions, and some US-based riders swear by them. So I was interested to be sent the link to this particular promotional video.

The video starts with a demo of the rear modulator…

…unfortunately, I didn’t even SEE it first time the video ran, which should tell you something.

I know the bike’s not going very fast, but arguably, by the time it comes on it’s too late – the bike’s already slowing. Given that the usual cause of a rear-ender is being tailgated by a vehicle that’s too close to slow down when the bike ahead decelerates, what’s needed is a ‘pre-braking’ warning, not something that comes on at the exact same moment. How you achieve that, I’m not sure.

And there’s a more serious issue. The flashing light around the index plate is actually pulling your eyes AWAY from the important signal, which is the brake light. I can conceive of a situation where the driver’s eyes are pulled down to the flashing lights and fails to react to the brake light. After all, flashing lights around the index plate are usually there for decorative purposes rather than any function.

So what about the front modulator?

You can certainly see it but it’s a bit irritating, to say the least. Can you imagine driving against a long line of bikes, all flickering away on high beam?

In any case, the result of US research seems to be that it enhances DETECTION at long distances – we’re talking hundreds of metres away. So maybe a less irritating modulator may have some benefit on the kind of fast, flat and straight roads they have in parts of the US or perhaps Australia. I can see one use being to alert drivers who might consider overtaking towards the motorcycle.

However, as an anti-SMIDSY device in urban areas, my impression is that modulators appear ineffective, and as far as I can tell from research, the modulator doesn’t appear to have any significant conspicuity benefit when the range is twenty metres or less.

Why is this distance important?

Because in an urban context it’s the crucial distance at which you MUST be seen. Collision dynamics in slower-moving, denser in-town traffic – the circumstances in which most SMIDSY-style crashes occur – clearly indicate that at the moment the the driver makes the final and crucial ‘looked but failed to see’ (LBFTS) error, the bike must be with twenty metres, and probably within a dozen metres or so.

It doesn’t actually matter if we’re spotted 500 metres away or fifty metres away – the ‘Last Chance Saloon’ for the rider is the last check the driver makes before turning into the bike’s path. Why? Two reasons. If the bike is further off when the error happens, either the emerging car will clear the bike’s path and it will be a near-miss, or the rider has sufficient space to hit the brakes hard and stop which means it’s another near-miss.

So the implication is that the bike actually has to be much closer than most riders realise before the LBFTS error will inevitably result in a collision.

What’s clear from looking at the crash stats is that neither hi-vis nor DRLs seem to have made any difference to the overall pattern of crashes, and so the ‘Sorry Mate’ collisions at junctions remain as frequent as ever, despite significant numbers of riders in hi-vis riding kit and virtually every bike in the UK now using lights in daytime.

I doubt we’d see any difference if modulators were legalised for use in the UK either.

Of course, the counter-argument is that modulators will help drivers see you further off, then they will remember you’re there, but I’m not convinced. There’s no evidence that it works for ordinary lights despite trials suggesting bikes with lights are seen at greater distances than bikes with no lights.

So, from a personal perspective, just as I don’t rely on DRLs or hi-vis clothing, I’d rather back my ability to see the driver and anticipate the error than put my faith in a modulator.

In any case, they are illegal in many countries.

Thanks to ‘Paul’ for alerting me to the link.

‘Pigeon vision’ – why it’s not a thing

Does the way pigeons see the world explain some motorcycle crashes?

Ryan over at FortNine recently put up a video entitled ‘how pigeons explain a common motorcycle crash. The presentation says that pigeons “suck at assessing how fast a particular vehicle is closing on them”. And he points to some research that shows that in a particular speed zone, they take off at the same distance from a car no matter what the speed the car approaches at. He says that the pigeons learn the typical speed of cars in their zone. Ryan then says this is because pigeons lack ‘binocular disparity’ and the ability to judge approach speed.

What’s binocular disparity? Because we have two eyes which both offer a view of a particular object, each eye gets a slightly different flat 2-D image from the light that falls on to each retina.

Imagine a tree behind a car. The view of eye is at a slightly different angle, which means each eye will show the tree at a slightly different position relative to the car. The brain can uses these different images to extract depth information. This is binocular disparity.

Ryan then says that we can use binocular disparity “to judge how fast an object is closing on us”, and explains that this is known as ‘stereopsis’ and that “within thirty metres it’s the main method of gauging the speed of other vehicles”.

“Unless” he adds…

…”you’re a pigeon” because pigeons have their eyes on either side of their head.

And he then explains that as we’re sitting at a junction, we only have one eye turned towards the junction:

“Same handicap, see? Only one eye is looking because the other is blocked by my nose”.

He then says that this isn’t so much of a problem when tracking cars because “one eye can still track using the apparent change in size to gauge closing speed”. The problem with motorcycles is that because they are “skinny”, they “don’t show much enlargement” until the bike’s on top of the observer.

Same angle, same distances… the car appears to ‘grow’ more than the bike

This is actually the phenomenon known as looming, and it’s well-known that it is easier to judge speed and distance for cars than bikes – for some reason, our brain measures the lateral growth of a car better than the vertical growth of a bike.

OK, so that’s the basis for the video. It’s plausible-sounding, particularly as it’s well-known that the brain ‘edits out’ the fact that our nose is actually visible in both eyes but I’d say there are significant flaws in the reasoning.

PIGEONS DO HAVE BINOCULAR VISION – Despite having eyes on either side of their head, and though they may turn their heads to scan you with one eye, even for pigeons the fields of view of their two eyes do overlap. Not by much, but pigeons WILL look straight at you and when they do that they are seeing you with both eyes. See the photo.

And although I have no proof, I’d suggest they DO need good depth perception – if they didn’t, they’d never manage to land on a narrow branch. They look directly ahead of them when landing.

HUMANS HAVE A WIDE FIELD OF BINOCULAR VISION – For human vision, the overlap is around 120° – that means we have monocular vision ONLY for around 40° at each side of our field of view. Yes, the bridge of the nose occludes part of each eye’s visual field, but nothing like the extent of a pigeon.

PERIPHERAL VISION DETECTS MOVEMENT AND LIGHT – The pigeon’s eyes are on either side of its head because it’s a prey animal. The eyes give a ‘wrap-around’ field of view with only a very small blind spot directly behind its head. Humans do have a bigger blind spot, but even staring directly ahead, our eyes are sensitive to movement and lights at 90 degrees since that angle falls within our peripheral vision. And once something is detected, our instinct is to turn our head to look straight at it.

The nose restricts around 40° of our total vision either side, but when we want to ‘look’ at something
we turn our heads to focus both eyes…

‘USEFUL’ AND FOCUSED VISION IS MORE RESTRICTED – Within that binocular field, the so-called ‘useful’ field of vision – the visual area from which information can be extracted in a single glance without eye or head movements – is restricted to around 10° either side of our line of sight.

Even more crucially, if we want to extract detail information, then we have to aim our gaze and use ‘foveal’ vision. This is where we get the clear, colour and focused image of the world. The bad news is that it’s a tiny cone, just 5° across at the point our gaze is focused. This is down to the construction of the human eye.

TO SEE DETAIL WE TURN OUR HEADS – It’s simply not possible to gain full situational awareness by relying entirely on the peripheral vision. If we want to look at something in detail, we have to bring it into the centre of our visual field, into our gaze. Mostly, this is a function of the anatomy of the eye; the fovea, the central portion of the retina, has the highest density of photo receptors. It’s also connected to a much larger part of the visual cortex in the brain, where the visual data is processed.

Whilst peripheral vision can provide useful information to fill out situation awareness, for a detailed study of a particular object we need to turn our eyes onto it.

So when we want to see something in detail – including the involuntary response that happens when we detect movement or light in peripheral vision – we do the same ‘eyes front’ thing that the pigeon does when it needs to land. At junctions we don’t stare straight out of the windscreen, trying to work out what’s coming from each direction via peripheral vision from both eyes simultaneously; we turn our heads to search in each direction in turn, in order to point these foveal cones of vision towards the specific area we’re searching.

Tracking, we’re keeping the bike firmly in the middle of our visual field…
Image taken from ‘Look harder for bikes’ road safety video

Ryan talks about the issue of ‘tracking’ vehicles. The fact is we achieve this by looking directly at them. That implies we’ve already seen them and we’re not attempting to detect them. The difficulty of judging speed and distance occurs when we’re already looking at them.

DRIVERS TURNING INTO SIDE ROADS MISS BIKES TOO – If the pigeon vision issue really was a thing, how can we explain the fact that there are TWO collision types at junctions?

Whilst the collision with the driver who emerges from the turning on the nearside is the more common, a significant number of crashes involve an oncoming driver turning INTO the side road and across the driver’s path.

If the ‘looked but failed to see’ issue was really down to a chunk of the visual field being viewed only through one eye, these collisions shouldn’t happen – they’d be ideal circumstances for full binocular vision to detect the bike, then judge its speed to a nicety.

FAILED TO SEE ERRORS HAPPEN CLOSE UP – Ryan says that stereopsis is “the main method of gauging the speed of other vehicles… within thirty metres. I’ve no reason to argue with that, but let’s actually think about the collision dynamics.

30 mph is 13.4 metres per second. So thirty metres is something over two seconds away. Research into collisions suggests that the safe ‘cut-off’ when a rider is almost certain to avoid a collision is three seconds out from the crash – so something under fifty metres away at 30 mph. But at 60 mph, it’s getting on for one hundred metres away.

If Ryan’s figures are right, at rural road speeds the error happens well outside the limits of stereopsis. Even at urban speeds, the error in spotting the bike could happen right at the limits.

But even if the error did happen within the zone covered by stereopsis, there’s a second consideration. Even a rider who’s taken by SURPRISE! should be able to stop fairly comfortably within twenty five metres. I can – and have – stopped in about ten metres from 30 mph.

The three main reasons for collisions and junctions; the driver looked but COULD NOT see… the driver looked but FAILED to see… the driver looked, saw but MISJUDGED speed or distance…

So if the bike actually HITS the car, the error MUST have happened closer. A LOT closer. If a driver somehow fails to detect a motorcycle less than twenty five metres away, I don’t think it’s a speed / distance misjudgement (with one exception – see below). It’s far more likely the driver simply didn’t SEE the bike.

And that can happen because either the bike wasn’t VISIBLE when the driver looked (one in five of collisions) or the perception error was caused by one of the many PERCEPTUAL issues that fall under the ‘looked but failed to see’ umbrella (one in three collisions).

The bulk of ‘looked, saw but misjudged speed and distance’ errors (one in three collisions) seem to happen on faster roads where the bike is beyond the range of stereopsis, and we use the rate of change in size to judge approach speed – and now the difficulty in judging the lateral growth of a motorcycle most likely becomes crucial. The size of the machine only grows by a quarter, despite the distance halving.

(And dismiss the ‘driver didn’t look’ theory too – the proportion of collisions where the driver was distracted is tiny. If drivers genuinely ‘didn’t look’, they’d be bouncing off pedestrians, bikes, and buses – as well as other cars – every few seconds.)

OR THE RIDER WAS SPEEDING – Oddly enough, that researcher who found the pigeons scattered at the same distance from the car no matter what speed he approached at found something in common with drivers. We too gain a sense of how much time we have to turn at junctions based on the TYPICAL speed of vehicles.

So if ANY vehicle – not just a motorcycle – is travelling significantly quicker than average, that vehicle is far more likely to have a collision. It’s not the speed that caused it per se, although more speed means more difficulty stopping and a bigger impact if the rider hits something, other road users simply aren’t expecting the vehicle to be travelling at the excess speed, so don’t detect the anomaly easily and thus are more likely to turn across the rider’s path.

The horizontal line represents the speed limit, the vertical bars of the same colour
represents the speed of the rider estimated by police

I don’t think it’s any coincidence that in a study of fatal bike crashes in the London area a few years ago, the majority of the deaths in the lower speed limits involved riders who were exceeding the limit. The horizontal lines in the chart represent the speed limit. The vertical bars are the estimated speeds of the riders who died.

AND DRIVERS COLLIDE WITH CARS TOO – Research from the Netherlands a few years ago looked at car-motorcycle and car-car detection errors, and adjusted the rates for EXPOSURE – that it, how many bikes and how many cars a driver would encounter in the same time frame. And what they found was that far from picking out bikes to collide with, drivers actually made the ‘looked but failed to see’ error in front of another car just as often as they made the error in front of a two-wheeler.

We always have to be a little careful about taking data from one country and exporting it to ‘fit’ our own roads and in this case the Netherlands has many more mopeds on the roads than the UK so there’s the possibility that drivers were more ‘bike-aware’. But there’s other evidence that hints that in countries where most vehicles are two-wheelers, bikers crash into bikers at much the same rate as car drivers.

We also have to remember that our own PERSONAL stories are looking through the opposite end of the lens. We may think that drivers are more likely to make a mistake in front of us on our bike than other riders, but the fact is we’ll encounter many more cars than bikes on a ride.

AND A FINAL NAIL – I didn’t even mention the fact that a substantial minority of the population have various eye issues which makes stereopsis impossible, yet manage to drive successfully.

CONCLUSION – The FortNine videos that Ryan fronts are often informative as well as entertaining to watch. But in this particular instance, I think the reasoning he uses is flawed. And hopefully I’ve explained this clearly enough that you can follow my own arguments. I’d be interested in your comments too, of course.

BUT HERE’S WHERE I DO AGREE – If there’s one bit of the video that I absolutely concur with, it’s Ryan’s comment after showing the old mid-70s ‘Think ONCE, think TWICE, think BIKE’ TV advert. I wonder where he found that?

Made in the mid-1970s, it’s still one of the best ‘think bike’ ads

He says about ‘think bike’, “he’s not wrong, but it’s not useful either. If we’re dealing with a sensory problem then imploring drivers to see better is like imploring a deaf person to listen up. I’d rather take my own responsibility…”

Spot on. Be proactive. Don’t wait to be seen. Assume you won’t be detected and ride with that in mind.

You can watch the FortNine video here:

You can find out more about the Science Of Being Seen project here:



I’m available to deliver the Science Of Being Seen (SOBS) presentation to clubs and groups around the UK IN PERSON, or anywhere in the WORLD via a WEBCAST, and at reasonable cost too.


Eye contact – an entirely faulty concept

and why we should forget it

Here’s a snippet from an article on an online motorcycle magazine site, in a series about how to avoid common crashes. Not surprisingly it’s starts with the SMIDSY collision with a vehicle turning at a junction.

This particular statement leapt out at me:

“The number of drivers who have pulled out on while I’ve been maintaining eye contact with them while wearing a clear visor is very worrying. The shock in the face of the driver is the scariest thing to me, it means that person looked to the right, made full eye contact me and still pulled out while I was sounding my horn and taking evasive action! Frightening stuff.”

Now, just think about that for a moment.

tractor and motorcycle SMIDSY
Looking our way? The best we can say is “they MIGHT see us”

The writer says that enough drivers have pulled out whilst he’s been maintaining eye contact for it to be ‘very worrying’.

Does that suggest anything to you?

Might it be that if drivers continue to pull out whilst ‘making eye contact’ than in fact they AREN’T actually seeing the bike? 

And the writer has actually spotted this, but hasn’t actually realised that the ‘shock in the face of the driver’ is a big clue.

That ‘shock’ is the moment the driver actually SPOTS the bike. The shock is the result of the SURPRISE! at seeing it.

Take a bit of time to watch drivers at junctions. Watch HOW they look in our direction. You’ll often see a snap of the head . That’s the moment we’re detected. You’ll often see the driver then track us by moving his or her head. 

That’s when the driver really does look at us, rather than in our direction. 

I say ‘really does look at us’ because eye contact is an entirely faulty concept.

The eye’s foveal zone – the part of the visual field that gives us clear and sharply focused colour vision – is just a few degrees across. Anything out of this zone is fuzzy. 

catch the regular LIVE ONLINE TALK SERIES events – next dates:

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You can test this easily by holding your arm out, sticking your thumb up in the air then looking at the thumb nail. Now look at the top knuckle on your thumb. Even though it’s just a centimetre or so below your nail you MUST move your eyes and refocus.

And remember too, that the eye has a depth of field just like a camera. Think how hard it is to focus on an object if there are other things in the same direction but at a different distance. We can have the same problem with a camera, trying to focus on a small object when there are other things in front of it and behind it. 

In the case of a bike, it’s entirely possible that the driver we were so busily trying to make eye contact with was actually looking at and focused on the car ten metres behind us.

So that’s another reason why trying to make eye contact is pretty much a waste of time – the driver can appear to be looking straight at us whilst focused on a car behind us. The motorcycle ahead of it never registers in the driver’s consciousness. It’s not ‘carelessness’ or ‘not looking properly’, it’s just how our eyes work.

So here’s a question for you. If the writer keeps ‘making eye contact’ yet it clearly doesn’t work, why keep trying to make something of it? 

My advice? Forget it and assume we’ve not been seen. We’ll be far better prepared when the driver does make the ‘looked but failed to see’ error and pulls into our path!

Head to www.survivalskillsridertraining.co.uk to find out how I can help you develop a genuinely defensive mindset when riding!

*** SCIENCE OF BEING SEEN *** The importance of lateral movement

*** SCIENCE OF BEING SEEN *** The importance of lateral movement
“Where other drivers turn across the path of a motorcyclist, this can be because the motorcyclist…is not seen by the driver…This points to the need to improve driver awareness of motorcycles, as well as raising awareness among motorcyclists of this issue, which is a key factor in many collisions. By running headlights during the daytime and wearing high visibility clothing, motorcyclists can help to improve their visibility to drivers.”

That’s from Transport for London’s ‘Motorcycle Safety Action Plan’ published back in 2016. I don’t know if there’s been an update since, but essentially it ignores one very big problem behind the ‘Sorry Mate I Didn’t See You’ SMIDSY collision.


The motorcyclist also has to be aware that they have to position TO BE SEEN. When plans like this ignore this issue, it’s hardly surprising that so many riders still seem completely oblivious to the problem – OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND.

In researching the Science Of Being Seen #SOBS, I found that there were actually THREE causes of these crashes.

LOOKED BUT FAILED TO SEE: These are the visual perception failures where a bike that is capable of being seen isn’t spotted. These make up around 1 in 3 of all junction collisions, and for a variety of reasons to do with the way the eye ‘sees’ the world and the brain processes the visual feed, these drivers simply didn’t pick out the presence of a motorcycle even though it was there to be seen. These ‘Looked But Failed To See’ crashes are so common they are actually referred to as LBFTS incidents in the research literature.

Causes include ‘saccadic masking’, which happens when our vision shuts down as we turn our head, a narrow field of clear vision which leaves much of our ‘worldview’ dependent on peripheral vision, and ‘motion camouflage’ where the bike simply ‘grows’ against the background and the driver’s brain fails to detect it.

I have a very good clip of a Spitfire simply ‘appearing out of nowhere’ as it flies directly towards the camera. It’s visible if you look in the right place, but with our attention focused on the presenter, it falls outside our narrow cone of clear vision and in peripheral vision, and is effectively invisible. It’s only when it’s scarily close that it simply ‘pops out’ at the viewer.

And I think we’d all agree that a Spitfire is rather bigger than a motorcycle!

The problem is that lack of lateral movement to attract our attention, and there’s a very specific form of motion camouflage that happens when two moving vehicles are on a collision course. This problem has a name – it’s known as the ‘Constant Bearing, Decreasing Range’ issue. It’s a term used in navigation and flying which means that some object, usually another ship viewed from the deck or bridge of one’s own ship or another aircraft viewed from the cockpit, is getting closer but staying at the same angle – or maintaining the same absolute bearing.

If they both continue on the same course at the same speed, they WILL collide. And it CAN happen on the roads. Just ask yourself where; for example, when you’re approaching a roundabout and another vehicle is on an intersecting course and will arrive at the same time, or when approaching a cross-roads and another vehicle is approaching head-on. Since neither vehicle will appear to move relative to the background, it can be difficult for either driver / rider to perceive the other, even when in clear view. I’ll be coming back to this in a moment.

LOOKED, SAW AND MISJUDGED: And then there is a second type of driver perception error where the driver actually sees the bike, but thanks to the tall and narrow shape of a motorcycle, simply misjudges speed and distance and therefore miscalculates the all-important ‘time to collision’. Once again, it’s a well-known phenomenon in the research and accounts for a further 1 in 3 of junction collisions, usually on faster roads. These are ‘looked, saw and misjudged’ errors.

From the point of view of the rider, the result is that the driver begins a dangerous manoeuvre. Unfortunately, the driver often recognises for themselves half-way through that it’s not going to end well. The rider will often see this change-of-mind when a driver starts to turn across the bike’s path then stops again, frequently ending up stranded across the road ahead of the bike.

This happened in front of me years ago when I was couriering. With a car coming the other way, I had no ‘out’ to the right of the emerging car but had just enough room to turn behind it and shoot obliquely between the gate posts from which the vehicle had just emerged, braking safely to a halt on an immaculate grassy lawn.

The ‘looked but failed to see’ and ‘looked, saw and misjudged’ errors are the classic ‘driver fails’. And it’s always been assumed that advice to use improved scanning techniques would reduce the frequency of these errors. But speaking plainly, the crash stats over the last fifty years of ‘Think Bike’ campaigns fails to turn up any significant change to the frequency of car – bike collisions. And that’s because the human eye and brain were never designed to work at the speed of traffic. The crashes happen because the weaknesses are effectively built-in.

LOOKED BUT COULD NOT SEE: But there’s a third category of error. In around one in five collisions, the rider simply wasn’t where the driver was able to see the bike when the driver looked. The driver ‘looked but COULD NOT SEE’ the bike because it was hidden.

And it’s easier for a bike to go missing than you may realise.

Just watch the video.

Watched it? That was an object the thickness of a PEN blocking our view of the approaching bike.

Now, remember the Constant Bearing issue? Think about what’s happening here. The bike’s not only not moving relative to the background, the fact that it’s on a constant bearing means it’s not moving relative to the vision-blocking pen. And it’s scary how close the bike got before it moved out to where you could see it.

The pen is a Vision Blocker. Think about how many objects there are around us that block lines-of-sight – post boxes, telegraph poles and trees, moving and parked cars, hedges and walls, people walking along the pavement…

…even another motorcycle on a group ride!

Now, I want you to watch the video again. This works best full screen on a PC monitor if you stand about five paces away from the screen. This time stretch your arm out, then hold your hand up vertically with the palm facing away from you, so that you’re looking at the back of your hand. Cover up the policeman and his pen. When do you see the bike now?

Now go sit in your car’s driving set and take a look at the A pillars supporting the front windscreen. If you look at the width of the pillar nearest you, you’ll find it’s about the width of your hand, and it’s about the same distance from your eyes as your hand was when you stretched your arm out.

If you’re still not ‘getting it’, get a friend to walk towards your car whilst trying to hide in the blind spot – they’ll know when they’re in it because they won’t be able to see YOUR eyes. It’s scary just how close they’ll get before you spot them. And a bike’s not much wider than a person.

So now… combine the Constant Bearing problem with the blind spots created by the car itself.

As you approach a vehicle, check where the driver’s head is relative to your line of approach. If their eyes are behind one of the pillars (and the B pillar supporting the doors and the C pillar behind the passenger doors are just as big a problem when approaching from the side or behind), then you’re NOT VISIBLE. You CANNOT BE SEEN.

And we can’t rely on drivers predicting that there MIGHT be a bike they can’t see.

So ask yourself: “how can I bring the driver’s eyes into MY own line-of-sight?”

The answers should be fairly obvious. To ‘break’ motion camouflage and the Constant Bearing problem, all we need to do is change position and speed and thus create some LATERAL movement – hopefully the driver will now see us though a wise rider would still be prepared to take evasive action.

And specifically, we want to identify, then move out from behind, any ‘Vision Blocker’ in order to bring our bike into the driver’s own line-of-sight. That way we ‘uncloak’ our bike, and at least give the driver a CHANCE of seeing us.

Sadly, reading the comments on the FB post where I spotted this video, it’s depressing how many simply missed the point.

There were the usual bunch of “car drivers don’t look properly” or “aren’t paying attention” theorists, though a minor logic check would tell them that if they weren’t ‘paying attention’ they’d be bouncing off everything around them and not just bikes.

Then there were the “car drivers are distracted by their phones” comments. Certainly, you’re at far higher risk of a collision if you are a mobile phone fiddler when driving, but relatively few police investigations into crashes in the UK suggest that the collision can be pinned on mobile phone use as a primary cause. That’s all covered in SOBS.

But my ‘favourite’ comment was probably:

“This just shows that we need to make bikes more visible.”

If you’re in a position where you CAN’T ACTUALLY BE SEEN, how on earth does the writer think that ‘making a bike more visible’ is going to work?

In terms of sage advice, it’s right up there with:

“Drivers, check your blind spots.”

How exactly? They are called blind spots for a reason.

If you want to find out more about the problems of being seen on two wheels, why not sign up for the next presentation of ‘Science Of Being Seen’, on Wednesday evening?


APRIL’S LIVE EVENT – ‘SOBS – the full presentation’
Science Of Being Seen is a 45 minute talk covering
human visual perception and motorcycle conspicuity,
and explains why conventional hi-vis clothing and
day-riding lights have proven less than successful at
preventing junction collisions. Discover how to use
Survival Skills ‘proactive measures’ in your own riding.
WEDNESDAY 6 APRIL 2022 AT 20:00 Tickets cost £5.


The original video was shown here:

The Startle Effect – SOBS, meet No Surprise!

Over on the Survival Skills Facebook page I’ve spent the last few Fridays looking at an unusual court case where a judge withdrew the case from the jury, after rejecting the prosecution’s case that a rider involved in a fatal collision with a pedestrian had to time react when the pedestrian stopped unexpectedly.

The incident reminded me of the words of Chesley Sullenberger – the Miracle on the Hudson pilot – “the startle factor is real, and it’s huge”. He was talking to a US Congressional hearing into the two aviation accidents involving Boeing’s 737 Max, and refuting claims that an alert and properly trained pilot could have dealt with the issues the plane was throwing at them.

Sound familiar?

Think bike? Think again!

Now, take a look at the photo. You may remember it as one of the long-running series of ‘Think Bike’ products, aimed at the driver.

The idea is, given the target, to try to make a driver aware of just how hard a bike can be to spot.

As soon as I saw it, my thought was that the message should be ‘Biker, Think’. And that’s because it’s a perfect illustration of the point that I regularly make when discussing the Science Of Being Seen (#SOBS); the effect of any CONSPICUITY AID – in this case, the bike’s headlight – depends entirely on WHAT’S BEHIND the rider.

It’s not the lightness of clothing, or – as in this case – the brightness of the headlight, it’s the CONTRAST against the BACKGROUND.

And that’s the message that is so difficult to get over to riders, despite my best efforts and the inclusion of SOBS as a module of the Biker Down courses that have been run by so many fire services in the years since this campaign. When the photo reappeared the other day, the riders’ responses were predictable:

:: drivers don’t look hard enough for bikes

:: the rider should be wearing hi-vis clothing

They both miss the point.

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Drivers fail to spot motorcycles for well-documented reasons – in this case, it’s the camouflage effect of the bike lights against the wintery background behind the rider.

And the belief that conspicuity aids stop ‘looked but failed to see’ incidents is mistaken. There’s little compelling evidence from crash statistics – junction collisions are as common as they ever were. It’s easy to check.

So we end up with a double whammy…

a driver who either never sees the bike before pulling out – or possibly spots it halfway through pulling out and SURPRISED! stops dead, blocking the rider’s path…

and a rider who expects to be seen (“because I had my lights on and drivers are more likely to see bikes with lights”) and caught by SURPRISE! only reacts at the very last second when he / she realises the car’s pulling into the bike’s path.

Only by understanding BOTH the Science Of Being Seen AND the No Surprise? No Accident! approach to riding do we get a full understanding of the issues thrown up by this simple photograph of a bike blending into the background.

And we’ll only begin to reduce junction collisions by understanding BOTH sides of the collision – why the driver makes the error that puts the biker at risk, and why the biker fails to predict a highly predictable error. This is what’s known as ‘INSIGHT’ – seeking to offer understanding of the relationship between a specific cause and effect within a particular context.

It’s a type of learning that revolves around problem-solving through understanding the relationships between our own abilities (self-awareness) and the ‘system’ in which we’re operating. Insight is the basis for all my training, incidentally.

If we focus on simplistic and reductionist explanations alone, we may know WHAT went wrong, but without looking for embracing, holistic explanations we’ll never know WHY it went wrong.


For more information on both projects:

SOBS – Imitation is a sincere form of flattery

A buddy of mine pinged me a GoogleFind at the weekend, saying I might want to take a look. It was a link to an advanced group’s newsletter from late 2013. I looked and read:

“Meeting Report – Understanding the causes of SMIDSY collisions”

The article went on to explain that the only aim of the talk was to ensure that the listeners got an unbiased insight into the causes of the ‘Sorry Mate I Didn’t See You’ crash, and some suggestions on how to prevent them in the future.

I read on to discover “motion camouflage”, “looming”, “the central sharp focus” of vision, “door pillars” and vehicles on “converging paths” all getting a mention.

Sound familiar?

I thought so, and the more I read, the more familiar it got.

There’s a word about using colours that create “contrast” and although the final message about hi-vis and day riding lights seems to have been somewhat scrambled, there was also one final suggestion to “move the motorcycle laterally”.

As you may well have realised, it’s much the same content as I deliver on my ‘Science Of Being Seen’ presentation.

SOBS was originally created for Kent Fire and Rescue Service as the third module of the ‘Biker Down’ courses. From Kent, Biker Down was was rapidly picked up by other FRS services and has spread across the UK (and further afield too – I’ve recently been talking to the organiser of Biker Down North America!).

Personally, I took an interest in SMIDY collisions as soon as I trained as a bike instructor in 1995. I had to tell CBT trainees that they were supposed to follow the standard advice to wear hi-vis clothing and use day-riding lights (DRLs), but in my personal experience as a courier both were ineffective, something confirmed by taking a look at ‘before and after’ historical accident statistics.

So the contrasting message “don’t rely on conspicuity aids” was a topic included in my very first advanced course run in 1997 and I’ve been writing about the issue on bike forums since at least 2001. On my website, you can still find the free riding tip originally penned in 2002 that looked at the likely causes of SMIDSYs and the problems riders create for themselves by over-relying on hi-vis and DRLs. It’s been regularly updated and formed the basis for SOBS when I created the presentation over the winter of 2011/12.

I spotted the newsletter date – almost two years after I first delivered SOBS in early 2012. And almost a year after the Kent Biker Down team – myself included – were honoured with an award at 2012 Prince Michael of Kent International Road Safety awards.

During those two years – 2012 and 2013 – we were inundated with people wanting to take the course. We were running Biker Down every couple of weeks.

And as word got around about the course, particularly after the Road Safety Award, we also had numerous visits from rider groups, some based well outside the Kent area.

Of course, it’s not impossible that the author came up with a very similar presentation – after all, all the information is in the public domain. For example, there’s a very well-constructed video from FortNine on the topic on YouTube.

Science Of Being Seen (SOBS) was originally
created in 2012 for Kent Fire and Rescue as
Module 3 of the pilot Biker Down course. As a
team we were awarded a Prince Michael of Kent
International Road Safety Award at the end of
2012. Most of the Biker Down teams in the UK
use a ‘slimmed down’ version of SOBS.

It’s the fullest version with up-to-date research.
Get a 40 minute talk with time for questions!
Contact me today: info[at]survivalskills.co.uk

Screenshot of live online presentation of Science Of Being Seen SOBS

But frankly, whilst much of that information has been out there for many years it’s often in fields unconnected with motorcycling. That’s where my research-based Masters degree in the sciences came in handy.

And my research background helped with the deeper investigative work which become possible once scientific papers became more widely available on the internet. Nevertheless, it needed quite a bit of personal enthusiasm to dig it out and pull it together.

So as far as I know, the original SOBS presentation was the first attempt to put conspicuity issues together into one coherent explanation which covered:

  • the reasons drivers fail to spot bikes
  • the reasons that hi-vis and DRLs are not a complete solution
  • the need for riders to think about whether or not their clothing and lighting creates a colour contrast with the background
  • the need for a pro-active response to the SMIDSY threat including slowing down and lateral movement

Having said all that, the whole point of SOBS is educational. I provided it to KFRS, and by the end of 2013, a version of my presentation was already being offered freely to other FRS’s.


I want the messages in the presentation to be spread as far and wide as possible to benefit riders, and I have absolutely no interest in locking it down for my own gain. The charge for presentations and the price of my published book of the presentation are to help fund my time involved in research and writing, plus hosting the Science Of Being Seen website. You can make a small donation using the button below if you wish – it all helps.

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So the information is out there for everyone, for free. Nevertheless, if SOBS really WAS the inspiration for the presentation, a ‘based on…’ credit would have been nice.

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