Perception Error May Contribute to Motorcycle Crashes, Study Finds

A recent psychological study may shed new light on the causes of certain motorcycle accidents, which researchers say may be affected by the way the human brain perceives distance.

Nationwide, more than half of all fatal motorcycle accidents involve collision with at least one other vehicle, according to a 2009 report by the Highway Loss Data Institute. What’s more, 42 percent of motorcycle deaths involve a similar set of circumstances: another vehicle turning left and colliding with an oncoming motorcycle, or one that is passing or overtaking the turning vehicle.

Object size may affect distance perception

Texas Tech University professor Pat DeLucia, the author of the study, says that a consistent pattern of misperception in the brain may help explain why motorcycle accidents so frequently involve left-turning vehicles.

The results of the study, which were published recently in Current Directions in Psychological Science, provided insight into the relationship between an object’s size and the brain’s ability to judge the distance of that object. DeLucia’s research suggests that smaller objects are typically perceived by the viewer to be farther away than larger objects at the same distance. Because motorcycles are much smaller than cars, this perception error may interfere with a driver’s ability to accurately judge the distance of an oncoming motorcycle when turning left, making collisions more likely to occur.

Motorcycle accidents in California

After a decade of steady increases, motorcycle injuries and deaths in California have begun to decline in recent years. Between 1998 and 2008, according to government data, California motorcycle fatalities spiked 175 percent, peaking at 560 deaths in 2008. Since then, however, the number of fatal motorcycle crashes in California appears to have begun receding once again.

Even with these improvements, however, hundreds of motorcyclists are injured or killed each year on California roads. Also troubling is the fact that motorcyclists make up a disproportionately large share of traffic injuries and deaths when compared to other motorists. According to data from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, motorcyclists are approximately 28 times more likely to be killed in a crash than occupants of other vehicles when traveling the same number of miles.

Monetary compensation for motorcycle injuries

When the driver of a car or other vehicle causes an accident with a motorcycle, for instance by turning into its path in the scenario described above, California law provides that the driver may be held financially liable for any damage that results. This means that an injured motorcyclist may be able to collect monetary compensation for any injuries that occur as a result of the crash, as well as for his or her lost income, medical bills and other expenses.

Our founding attorney, Scott J. Corwin, has more than 30 years of experience in representing accident victims injured in all forms of motor vehicle accidents, including motorcycle and bicycle accidents, in the Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, Orange, San Diego, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties and throughout the state of California.