MIND your SMIDSYS on the road – ‘inattentional blindness’ can kill

August 28th, 2018

Inattentional blindness means drivers do not see 30 per cent of people riding bicycles on roads in major cities, with new Australian research warning that more needs to be done to promote driver awareness of vulnerable road users.

The research has prompted Bicycle Queensland to remind Queenslanders to MIND their SMIDSYS, a reference to the often-used crash acronym ‘sorry mate, I didn’t see you’ and the rider response – ‘mate, I nearly died’. 

The ground-breaking research was led by a team at the Australian National University and published in The International Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.

Bicycle Queensland CEO, Anne Savage, said the study findings were alarming, but sadly not surprising to the cycling community.

“This ground-breaking research provides vital evidence to help end the tragic death toll on Queensland roads.

“It pinpoints a common concern for bike riders and other vulnerable road users – drivers simply don’t see us on the road.

“In many instances, this is due to ‘inattentional blindness’, a phenomenon where drivers may be paying attention to the road, but fail to notice unexpected objects located in plain sight.

“This expert study highlights the urgent need to encourage all road users to maintain higher awareness of what’s happening on the road around them when they drive, walk, and ride.

“This is particularly important for all of us when we drive, with much higher risks of fatalities and serious injuries resulting from driver-related inattentional blindness.”

The findings back up a growing body of evidence that has seen researchers and international authorities call for new strategies to improve road safety.

“Of particular concern, about 22 per cent of cyclists are not seen by motorists, and in busy cities this increases to about 30 per cent of riders,” Ms Savage said.

“The same study also found that the major factor influencing inattentional blindness was driver awareness, not the visibility of the cyclist or other external signposts.

“The effect was more pronounced in drivers using GPS devices, when drivers fail to see 24 per cent of bike riders compared to 19 per cent for drivers not using the technology.

“Drivers aged between 20 and 29 were also found to have a high rate of inattentional blindness, failing to see 31 per cent of cyclists, compared to a rate of just 21 per cent for drivers aged 50 or over.

“This finding is particularly interesting, because it challenges the perception that older drivers experience greater difficulty with driver vision.”

Nearly 800 cyclists are injured on Queensland roads each year, costing the economy over $220 million annually, and contributing to a horror road toll in Queensland this year.

“There have been 166 lives lost on Queensland roads this year – shattering the hopes and dreams of our family members and friends,” Ms Savage said.

“I have written to the State Government calling for the creation of a Road Safety and Healthy Travel Commission to spearhead a much stronger response to achieve the target of zero deaths on our roads.

“Concerted investment to improve on-road bike lanes and build new separated cycleways is critical, together with slower speed limits and a fresh approach to community awareness and education.

“One thing is clear – we need to act now and act courageously – we owe it to each other to do better.”


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