I’ve decided to write this post for two reasons. One, I’m a cyclist and don’t much fancy getting knocked off my bike. Two, I like dancing gorillas.
First of all then, point one. The whole not getting mangled by trucks when I’m out showing off my Lycra collection thing.
With almost no exception, cyclists don’t like it when they find that the piece of the road they’re gently cycling upon is suddenly also occupied by someone driving a big metal box at forty miles an hour. It just doesn’t work and usually it’s the cyclist who ends up worse off.
This is why when we’re out pretending to be Bradley Wiggins, we’re cautious around junctions as whilst it may be the case that we have the right of way, we know all too well that if we haven’t been seen, our having had the right of way is irrelevant.
Being alert, wearing something reflective and being lit up like a Christmas tree all help increase the chances that we’ll be seen by those pulling out at junctions who should be following their Highway Code and checking for dangers before pressing down the ‘go’ pedal.
What dangers are you checking for at junctions though? Enter the dancing gorilla.
As reinforced by this recent study from eggheads at Harvard, we tend to look only for what we’re conditioned to look for, meaning we may not see other things that we really ought to have noticed.
The Harvard experiment involved radiologists being asked to examine a CT scan for signs of lung cancer. They were not told there was an image of a dancing gorilla embedded in the scan and as a result, over 80% of them did not notice the misplaced gorilla, even though they had looked directly at it.
This echoes the test conducted in the above video, again where having been asked to look for something in particular, the conditioning means that many people completely miss the ‘extra player’ walking right into their field of vision and dancing a neat little jig.
Transport for London picked up on the experiment for good reason – if you can miss and dancing gorilla simply because you’re not looking for him, could you also miss someone on a bike whilst out motoring?
The answer of course is yes, you could.
The reality of this happening was reinforced recently when a judge warned motorists that they have a ‘responsibility’ towards cyclists following a fatal collision involving a cyclist in Wales.
In this incident, the cyclist had been near the curb, was wearing high visibility clothing and was using lights. He would have been clearly visible to the driver for at least twenty seconds prior to the collision and yet as the prosecution stated, “for reasons unknown, despite the time and distance available to him, the defendant simply failed to observe him”, driving straight into him.
The judge rightly characterised the death as “wholly unnecessary and avoidable”, sentencing the driver to fourteen months in prison.
Now I don’t like dividing cyclists and motorists into opposing camps as I think it’s an unhelpful message, ‘cyclists are at fault here because of X’ and ‘drivers should do Y’ and so on.
Rather the suggestion here is that when we’re using the roads, on whatever form of transport we choose, we always do so with as an open mind as we are able.
P.S. It’s interesting applying selective attention to situations other than motoring, police searches or investigations for instance. If officers are conducting a fraud investigation for example, they’ll be looking for evidence indicating fraud but might they miss evidence pointing towards other offences as a result? I think it’s certainly a possibility.