Studies Suggest Why Motorcyclists Are Likely To Be Accident Victims

Many motorcyclists living near Atlanta, Georgia, can’t wait for the warm season when they can ride regularly. Unfortunately, with more riding comes a greater risk of accidents, which are often more devastating for motorcyclists than for the people in other involved vehicles. Sadly, in many cases, motorcyclists are not even at fault in these accidents.

Recent studies point to two reasons that motorcyclists may have a higher risk of being accident victims than motorists in other vehicles. It’s obvious that motorcycles are smaller than other vehicles and less common to see. In surprising ways, these qualities may raise the risk of other drivers failing to recognize motorcyclists or misjudging the type of maneuvers they can make safely.

Drivers struggle to recognize rare objects

A study published in 2014 by researchers from Monash University in Australia suggests drivers are slow to detect motorcycles because motorcycles are a relatively uncommon sight. According to materials from the study, researchers asked participants to identify motorcycles and buses that appeared during a driving simulation. Half of the participants were given a simulation with a high frequency of buses, while the other half saw more motorcycles. Researchers found the following:

Participants were biased to detect whichever type of vehicle they were exposed to more frequently.

Participants with infrequent exposure to motorcycles had to be 51 meters closer, on average, to detect them.

At speeds of less than 40 miles per hour, this gave the participants with frequent motorcycle exposure an extra 3 seconds of reaction time.

These findings suggest that the start of the riding season, when most drivers are not accustomed to seeing motorcyclists, may be especially dangerous. Unfortunately, prevalence is not the only factor that makes other drivers more likely to cause motorcycle accidents.

Size affects perception of speed

A second study from Texas Tech University, which was published in fall 2013, found that the brain might underestimate the speed of motorcycles because of their size. According to materials published on Science Daily, study participants were asked to watch a simulation in which a distant large object and a small close object approached. Although the simulation was programmed so that the small object would hit first, participants consistently identified the large object as the one that would arrive first.

According to the researcher behind this study, this likely happened because the brain uses shortcuts when judging speed. The brain can most accurately judge speed by observing the expansion of the image of the object that is projected onto the retina. However, the brain can also use the size of the retinal image as a proxy for distance, which means the brain is biased to think larger objects are closer.

This cognitive shortcut may cause drivers to underestimate how close a motorcycle is or how rapidly it is approaching. When a motorist is judging whether there is enough time to pull out or change lanes in front of a motorcycle, a misjudgment can lead to an accident the motorcyclist is powerless to avoid.

Preventing or handling accidents

Based on these findings, drivers should focus on watching for motorcyclists and leaving plenty of time or space during traffic maneuvers near motorcycles. Riders, meanwhile, should recognize that other drivers have cognitive blind spots and do their best to avoid dangerous situations.

Unfortunately, knowledge and caution are not always enough to prevent accidents. Any motorcyclist who is harmed in an accident caused by another driver should consider meeting with an attorney to discuss the accident and means of seeking compensation.


John Clarke is a professional and experienced content creator based in Sydney, Australia. He works as the editorial manager in TIME Magazine and as a contributor at

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