Wednesday, March 12, 2008


(Image from Sonoma County Transit - Top ten crashes and how to avoid them. Good advice.)

Fritz sent me a link that leads to a test of your powers of observation.

Click on the link (it requires a broadband connection) and test yourself.

Seeing is an active process. The act of vision is filtered by our expectations and preconceptions. So when a motorist says, “Officer, I never saw that cyclist. He came out of nowhere!” That motorist is likely telling the truth.

Now, you'd think that as a cyclist I'd be more aware of other cyclists on the road. And in a general sense that's true. But just like everyone else, I'm shackled to my expectations when I'm driving. Several times, I've been startled by wrong-way riders or night riders seemingly appearing 'out of nowhere.' It's an unpleasant experience.

The incident I'm about to describe happened some time ago. Fritz reminded me of it during his appearance on the Spokesmen earlier this week.

The sun lurked just over the horizon that morning, lighting the road with indirect sunlight. Dawn was moments away. I was southbound on Mingo Road just north of the maintenance base where I work. A car pulled up and stopped on a side street. Yes, it's the classic motorist-about-to-pull-out-in-front-of-you position. I could see his eyes turn past me and look far down the road. The small, comparatively slow moving bicycle with a big, “well nourished” guy on top simply didn't register. The driver's programming had him looking for large, fast-moving vehicles much farther away. So while I was in his field of vision, I didn't make a blip on his radar. And radar is a good analogy because Doppler radar works by showing speed differences, and below a certain threshold, those differences are disregarded. This driver's eyes were turned toward me, but I didn't break that critical threshold of consciousness. He scanned for 'real' threats, motor vehicles hurtling toward him at 50 miles an hour, not a bicyclist traveling at 15.

I instantly moved to the left hand tire track, ready to brake or dodge as necessary. Sure enough, the car started forward. I yelled, “HEY!” The car nose dived as the driver spiked the brakes. He had the startled where-in-hell-did-you-come-from look on his face.



Blogger lemmiwinks said...

Great description of how the classic SMIDSY (Sorry Mate I Didn't See You) accident happens Ed, put it much better than I've been able to. I especially like the Doppler radar comparison.

7:20 PM  
Blogger Ed W said...

I can't help but re-visit those 10 common crashes from time to time, and as a new thought occurs, include it in the discussion. You could attribute that to a pedantic nature, or simply say that I know people learn in different ways. A different image or a different analogy may click with one person while another misses it.

I just keep trying.

7:40 PM  
Blogger Dingbat said...

But let's one add one small thing to the "HEY!!"--a smile and wave after the driver does see you. My "hey" is really loud and nasty when I'm pulling my daughter in the trailer-- deep parental instincts at work, I suppose--so maybe it's less necessary if you can be friendly and loud at once. But I do try to leave a lasting good impression of the two-wheeled world.

9:26 AM  

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