Project: Car drivers skills and attitudes to motorcycle safety - Part 1

Reference: T201I

Last update: 03/10/2008 12:01:16


Project objectives:

1. To undertake an extensive review of relevant literature and on-going research in the UK and overseas in order to identify and critically assess key factors influencing the interactions between drivers and motorcyclists and the relationship to the risks of accident involvement;
2. To identify potential countermeasures and assess the evidence for their effectiveness / transferability, and identify gaps in knowledge.



The Government's road safety strategy Tomorrow's roads - safer for everyone published in March 2000 set out a framework for delivering further improvements in road safety over the next decade and established new long term 10 year casualty reduction targets to be achieved by 2010. By 2010, the aim is to achieve, compared with the baseline average for 1994-1998:
- a 40% reduction in the number of people killed or seriously injured (KSI) in road accidents
- a 50% reduction in the number of children killed or seriously injured (Child KSI) in road accidents
- a 10% reduction in the slight casualty rate, expressed as the number of people slightly injured per 100 million vehicle kilometres.

Despite making up 1% of road traffic, two wheeled motor vehicle users account for approximately 18 per cent of all road user fatalities and 9% of all road traffic casualties. Following several years of increasing numbers, due mainly to an increase in motorcycling activity, the number of motorcycle casualties fell by 10% in 2004. However, levels are still above the casualty reduction target baseline, while levels for all other road users are well below the baseline.

Previous research has shown that a high proportion of multi-vehicle accidents involving motorcycles is due to drivers' failures of attention, awareness, or perception. Many of these accidents happen at junctions when a car pulls out into the path of a motorcyclist. Such accidents seem to involve older drivers with relatively high levels of driving experience who nonetheless seem to have problems detecting approaching motorcycles.

It has also been found that drivers often fail to take account of the fact that powered two-wheelers due to their much smaller dimensions can overtake or pass their own vehicles where cars or lorries might not be able to. Accordingly, they fail to take into account the possible approach of motorcyclists and thus further contribute to the risk of an accident.

The research aim is to understand the reasons behind these failures and produce advice that can be used both in training and in publicity campaigns.


University of Nottingham, School of Psychology
University Park, Nottingham, NG7 2RD

Contract details

Cost to the Department: £73,936.00

Actual start date: 21 March 2006

Actual completion date: 20 December 2006


Car Drivers’ Skills and Attitudes to Motorcycle Safety: A Review
Author: School of Psychology, University of Nottingham
Publication date: 07/05/2008
ISBN: ISBN 978 1 904763 87 1
Source: Queen’s Printer and Controller of Her Majesty’s Stationery Office
More information:

Summary of results

  1. Literature review:
    The literature review first identified a number of bottom-up factors such A-frame obscuration, movement, and conspicuity. One particular bottom-up influence seems especially relevant: spatial frequency (the width of the vehicle). Global Precedence theory suggests that we extract low spatial frequency items from a visual scene first (including wide vehicles such as cars). Thus we are more likely to miss narrow motorcycles which are considered to be high spatial frequency items.

    Whether a driver looks at a motorcycle can be dependent on many things, including experience and practice with particular road contexts, learned regularities of specific road environments, and the extent of peripheral vision. Attitudes can indirectly influence whether drivers make all appropriate visual checks, and on the basis of the literature review it is suggested that speed may be an important mediating variable. Going through a junction at speed reduces the time available for appropriate visual checks.

    Whether a driver realises that they are looking at a motorcycle is a more subtle question. In theory a driver could look directly at a motorcycle yet not perceive it. This is the truest form of the Look But Fail To See error (LBFTS). This again potentially relates to the spatial frequency of the motorcycle, but also to expectations and previous exposure. Empathy with the motorcyclist's plight appears important. Drivers with relatives who ride motorcycles have been reported to have fewer collisions with motorcyclists and have better observation skills in regard to motorcycles.

    It is possible that a driver looks at an approaching motorcycle, and even perceives the motorcycle, yet still makes a manoeuvre that leads to a collision. This could occur because they misjudge whether it poses a potential risk, or fail to correctly appraise the approaching motorbike. One of the key theories is the 'size-arrival effect'. According to this theory approaching speed is related to the size of the vehicle. The consequence of this is that the narrower image of the motorcycle compared to the car may result in the driver overestimating the time of arrival.

    The three DBQ scales were reliable. Women reported more lapses. Males reported more violations. Drivers with between 2 and 10 years driving experienced reported the most violations. The two least experienced driver groups reported the most errors.

    Fifteen of the 24 motorcycle items produced 4 factors, reflecting (a) negative attitudes toward motorcyclists, (b)
    empathic attitudes toward motorcyclists, (c) awareness of
    perceptual problems, and (d) spatial understanding.

    Analyses performed on the negative attitudes toward motorcyclists suggested that all driver groups have higher negative attitudes compared to the dual drivers, and in some cases it is the drivers with between 2 and 10 years experience who have the most negative attitudes towards motorcyclists.

    Analysis of the empathic attitudes revealed greatest empathy from the dual drivers, followed by those drivers with over 10 years of car driving experience.

    Analysis of the perceptual problems suggested that females report greater problems with spotting motorcycles at junctions and estimating their speed. All driver groups with no experience of riding a motorcycle reported that motorcycles were difficult spot at junctions. Analysis of spatial understanding scores suggested that females give larger estimates of the width of a motorcycle compared to males.

    Non-factor items also produced some interesting results.
    . Dual drivers gave higher ratings for performing all appropriate visual checks when driving
    . The least experienced drivers believed it was easier for motorcyclists to make sudden swerves to avoid
    accidents compared to car drivers
    . Dual drivers agreed more strongly than other drivers that motorcyclists take greater precautions in wet
    weather compared to car drivers
    . Females gave higher ratings on a number of items relating to an inability to spot motorcycles
    . Drivers without any motorcycle experience believed that the motorcycle should ride closer to the gutter
    compared to the responses given by the dual driver group
    . Drivers without any motorcycle experience also agreed more strongly than the dual driver group with the
    statement that motorcyclists often perform inappropriate manoeuvres

    Experiment 1: At far distances motorcycles were spotted less than cars

    Experiment 2: While participants were more likely to pull out in front of vehicles in the far location, there was no difference between cars and motorcycles.

    The experimental results suggest that the problems of carmotorcycle interactions can be addressed through laboratory experimentation. Specifically these experiments suggest that errors of perception rather than judgement may contribute more to car-motorcycle accidents. The limitations of the experiments are acknowledged and suggestions are made for further research.