Eye-tracking research reveals drivers fail to spot cyclists

Carlton Reid
Eye-tracking research reveals drivers fail to spot cyclists

SMIDSY may have been confirmed in new research. Motorists fail to clock one in five cyclists, yet can spot pedestrians.

Using eye-tracking technology to monitor on-road driver behaviour, a study has found that drivers failed to notice 22 per cent of cyclists on the road, despite being in clear view. Motorists failed to spot four percent of pedestrians crossing the road. The research was carried out for Direct Line Insurance and, in a press release, the word used for 'pedestrian crossing in the road' was "jaywalker", a word invented by the American motor lobby in the 1920s to delegitimise the presence of pedestrians on streets now deemed by motorists to be primarily for motorists.

The study was carried out by Bunnyfoot, psychologists and human-computer interface experts. A sample of 100 drivers were tested in August last year in London, Sheffield and Oxford.

The study found that 15 percent of motorcyclists - who also suffer from SMIDSY - went unseen by motorists.

Female drivers who took part in the study spotted fewer cyclists than the male subjects, with 26 per cent of cyclists unseen by women. Younger drivers are the worst of all, failing to spot 31 per cent of cyclists.

Vicky Bristow, spokesperson for Direct Line car insurancesaid:“Encouraging all road users to be extra vigilant will certainly improve road safety but tackling an issue of this scale really requires top-down change. Successive governments have encouraged local authorities to adopt policies to make cycling safer in the past but our research highlights that this issue is still widespread.”

Roger Geffen, campaigns and policy director for CTC, said:

“We already know that there is a difference between what people ‘see’ and what they ‘notice’, and all too often drivers fail to ‘notice’ cyclists even when they are squarely in the driver’s field of vision.

"I’d want to know more about this study’s methodology and the technology it uses, before concluding that it reliably shows that drivers are less likely to notice cyclists than pedestrians. After all, there are other possible reasons why drivers’ eyes might be more prone to movement when they notice pedestrians than when they notice cyclists.

"Yet despite these reservations, I do have a hunch that drivers are more likely to fail to spot cyclists than pedestrians. The SMIDSY excuse – “Sorry mate I didn’t see you” – does seem more common when drivers hit cyclists and motorcyclists than when they hit pedestrians.

"But even if this was true, it would be really useful to know whether this problem is inevitable, or can we expect it to reduce as cycle use increases. In other words, are drivers more likely to notice cyclists in towns or in countries with higher rates of cycle use? Or are drivers more likely to notice cyclists if they also cycle themselves?"

SMIDSY expert Dr Ian Walker, a traffic psychologist at the University of Bath, said:

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"I have various questions about the methods. Most critically, it appears that the measure taken is whether or not other road users were fixated in a driver's central vision. However, I don't think this is a good measure of whether or not the driver was aware of those other road users. Road users who are behaving as a driver expects them to will often not be fixated in the centre of the driver's vision - but this does not necessarily mean the driver is unaware of that road user or that the road user is in any way "invisible" or at greater risk. It would be no surprise at all to me that pedestrians stepping out into the road are fixed in central vision more than, say, a cyclist riding down the road - that's probably just a sign of the pedestrian being far more unexpected in that context, rather than their being more visible or safer."

Tags: ctc , smidsy

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