Psychologists: Drivers see what they expect to see

On Behalf of | Oct 18, 2023 | Bicycle Accidents |

In many cases where a cyclist is hit by a car, the driver will say that they never saw the cyclist. That cyclist may have been in the bike lane, wearing a bright green vest, with flashing lights all over their bike. It doesn’t make any sense to them, but the driver of the car will still say that they just didn’t see them and that’s why they hit the bike.

Psychologists have looked into this in the context of motorcycle accidents, which show the same issue. What they found is that people tend to see what they expect to see. They did a study where drivers had to notice either a taxi or a motorcycle, and they were twice as likely to miss the motorcycle. Most drivers saw the taxi, while most did not see the bike.

Essentially, drivers spend most of their time behind the wheel looking for other vehicles that are similar to their own. They expect cars, pickup trucks and SUVs. But they are not looking for smaller vehicles, like a bicycle, and so it is far easier for them to overlook.

Compounding issues

It’s not just that drivers aren’t looking for cyclists, but they may not even be looking in the right places. For instance, a driver may simply be paying attention to the traffic lines around them, without ever looking at the bike lane to their right. When they go to execute a turn, they could hit a cyclist who is legally riding in that lane, but it’s because the driver never rides a bike and never thought to look in the bike lane to begin with. They may not even have been aware that it existed.

Issues like these can cause severe injuries for cyclists, who need to know what options they have to seek compensation.