As surprising as it may seem, mindfulness can help drivers protect motorcycles in a surprising and meaningful way. This is particularly helpful for those living in areas that get snow, where drivers need to re-remind themselves to watch for bikes every spring.
Riders themselves may wonder why drivers even need the reminder. But that is because both drivers and riders forget to take natural brain processing mistakes into account. Because as it turns out, ‘seeing’ a motorcycle is no easy thing.
Depending on the regions included, the various studies on the subject shows that 25-50% of fatal motorcycle accidents are caused by drivers entering the motorcycle rider’s lane.
These collisions most often happen near intersections, as people make statistically dangerous last-second lane changes to jockey for shorter lines.
In doing studies on the subject, scientists saw two major factors come up. The first was that, if the bike entered our view in our peripheral vision, it’s too small for our brains to register it as being meaningful.
Due to this peripheral effect, it’s important to carefully and repeatedly check in all relevant directions. But… the much bigger surprise was that, even when drivers eyes were tracking the bike, they still didn’t see it.
Despite their eyes taking in the light, their brains refused to make the translation into the driver’s reality. Essentially, we turn and hit the bike because we believe it isn’t there when it is.
The hypothesis is that, as we look back and forth at two directions of traffic on a left turn, our brain ‘forgets’ the bike in our short term memory. Because driving requires a constant rewrite of our short-term memory, the bike gets overwritten by the ever-new information overwriting it.
Another compounding explanation is Confirmation Bias. This is when we see what we expect to see. It explains things like, how we can proofread a page a dozen times and still miss a glaring error, or how we can look for something right where it is and we still don’t see it.
In the case of the bike, if it starts invisibly, in our peripheral view, then our brain is incorrectly told the road is clear.
Then, when we look back at the bike a second time, in our more central vision, it’s possible that at that pace the Confirmation Bias on the previous all-clear overrides our view of the actual bike.
In those cases, in essence, our belief has trumped our vision. This is where mindfulness can really help.
There’s a famous scene in a movie called The Secret, where they’re talking about finding a parking stall. This part starts no end of arguments between people who see the film. Apparently even the group in the film split into two groups upon seeing it.
The first group believes that thoughts can materialize or manifest a parking stall through some magical means explained only as ‘The Law of Attraction.’
That Law is a real thing, as will be explained below. But this mindfulness exercise does not create parking stalls for us, it can only ensure we see the stalls that are there. And it can do the same for bikes.
There’s a reason stalls are harder to find when we’re panicked and late. We should think of the various concepts we know as being hairballs of all of the neural connections that form our idea of something. And without knowing it, we all have a hairball for ‘parking.’
When we’re worrying there won’t be stalls, we are activating the part of that hairball that stores full stalls. We’re essentially in the act of pre-loading images of full stalls into our minds.
Following The Law of Attraction, when we look at the street, our brain just flits from car to car –yup, yup, yup, expected, expected, expected (attracted, attracted, attracted). Just like with the typos, because we expected full stalls, our brain confirms every one we see.
In doing so we miss the empty stalls. Yet, in the case of the stalls, if we imagine an empty one, we light up the part of our hairball of brain connections that form our view of an empty stall.
Just by doing that we have primed our brains. Then, when we look at the street, our brains are tuned to see the spaces, not to the cars.
That doesn’t create a stall out of thin are, but it does make it way more likely that we’ll find one if there is one. And the same can hold true for bikes. For this reason, some researchers have suggested that merely saying the word ‘bike‘ would help us, because it helps keep the bike in the forefront of our memory.
In addition to that incidental action, before even starting to drive each day, we can likely benefit from a sports-visualization technique as well.
If we take a moment to simply imagine the horror of actually hitting a motorcyclist on either a right or left lane change, then our brains will read that as highly dangerous. Fortunately, our brains are highly tuned to avoid danger.
As long as the fear doesn’t get to the point of being blinding, genuine concern about an accident happening can and will add to our wariness –and when driving, that can be very helpful.
If we can keep the bikes stored in our minds as particularly vulnerable, then that’s like extending our personal radar for danger.
That way, if we are driving properly and our eyes do actually track the motorcycle, these exercises can help us ensure that our brain makes the translation, and that the bike and rider do register in our consciousness reality.
It’s not hard to do, it’s a good daily meditative exercise, and it represents a genuinely useful level of mindfulness. We can trade danger for meditation.
Each time we climb into the car we should simply imagine hitting a bike and hurting the rider. Then, as we drive, on turns that will cross traffic or enter a lane, we should always say the word ‘bike‘ before pulling out.
This is a very practical example that demonstrates how important it can be to replace our busy thinking with awareness. Because just by being more mindful when we drive, we can literally save lives.
PS Consider sharing this post with the motorcyclists you know. They tend to do a very good job of disseminating useful information to other drivers and the more people that know about this the more we can take action to keep riders safer.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.