Why do so many Washington drivers fail to notice cyclists?

On Behalf of | Jan 17, 2024 | Bicycle Accidents

Washington and Seattle in particular are temperate, which means that biking is possible year-round despite regular rainfall. Many cyclists go out for rides daily or at least several times a week. Unfortunately, cyclists have an elevated risk of dying on the road when compared with motor vehicle occupants based on the number of miles traveled.

Cyclists have disproportionate representation among those who die in traffic collisions in part because bicycles offer no protection against the brutal force of a collision. Most cyclists do their best to follow Washington traffic laws and use the right safety gear for their own protection.

Unfortunately, drivers are often less than cautious. The mistakes that motorists make often cause severe injury or death for cyclists. The excuse these drivers give for causing a crash is frequently that they couldn’t see the cyclist.

People can see something without recognizing it

Drivers who claim they couldn’t see a cyclist aren’t usually fully correct in their analysis of the situation. The chances are quite good that the cyclist was perfectly visible. Drivers claim they couldn’t see a bicycle in the lane immediately in front of their vehicle or across an intersection from them. They probably did look directly at the bicycle. However, they may not have recognized the vehicle as a traffic safety concern. Psychologists refer to this experience as inattentional blindness. The brain has a limited ability to process incoming information. Visual data requires a huge amount of brain processing effort.

Those traveling in a vehicle take in more information than their brain can manage at once. It therefore engages in a sort of triage process. The brain decides what information is important enough to command someone’s attention while filtering visual information. Cyclists, pedestrians and even motorcycles are obviously smaller than an enclosed motor vehicle, so the brain does not consider these objects a threat.

People don’t notice the cyclist unless they intentionally attempt to focus on them. Many drivers do not take the time to intentionally scan their surroundings for bicycles, and they might cause preventable crashes because of that failure. Thankfully, cyclists hurt in collisions and those mourning the loss of a loved one may potentially be able to hold a negligent Washington driver accountable for causing a crash. But, in an ideal world, such crashes would be prevented in the first place.

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