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Drivers See Bikers on the Road and Then Forget Having Seen Them, Study Says

26 September 2019 - autoevolution

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Anew study has determined that a potential cause of accidents involving passenger vehicles and motorcycles is the so-called “Saw But Forget” error, which makes drivers forget having seen the bikers and thus pulling out in front of them.

Researchers at the University of Nottingham's School of Psychology conducted the research in a driving simulator. It comprised 3 tests and eye movement on the drivers was monitored throughout all 3, Science Daily reports.

Drivers were observed when stopped at a junction and when pulling out. During the 180 memory tests conducted, 3 drivers forgot they'd seen a car approaching, but 16 of them forgot having seen bikers seconds before pulling out in front of them. In real life, this translates to fatal crashes on the public roads, as drivers pull out into the path of an oncoming bike, sometimes to fatal consequences. In the U.K. alone, there are 90 such crashes recorded annually.

Researchers believe that most of these accidents are caused by the "saw but forget" error, in which a short-term memory loss appears and affects the decision making process. A considerably smaller percentage is caused by the "Look But Fail to See" error, which is exactly what it sounds like: the driver looks in the direction of an oncoming vehicle or bike, but fails to see it altogether.

"These 'Saw but Forgot' (SBF) errors were remarkably frequent in the simulator and we have every reason to think that they may be equally prevalent in the real world," Dr. Peter Chapman, an expert in the psychology of driving at the Nottingham University, says of the findings. "The surprising lack of memory may be exactly why these crashes appear so mysterious."

To counter the SBF error, researchers propose the "Perceive Retain Choose" (PRC) model, which would have drivers speak out loud whenever they spot a biker. They call this the "See bike say bike" strategy, which would prevent drivers from forgetting having seen the bike only seconds later.

"If relevant visual information is encoded phonologically it has been shown that it is no longer subject to visuospatial interference," Dr. Chapman explains. "Clearly any research that improves our understanding of these crashes and the kind of countermeasures that can be used to prevent them, has the potential to be a major contribution to world health."

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