Letter of the Week – from Dan Carter, California

The No Surprise: No Accident rider safety initiative has been getting some interesting mail, by no means restricted to the UK either. Here’s a mail received a couple of days ago from Dan Carter of San Luis Obispo, California, USA. Dan says:

“I came across your website via discussion in a US forum here: ttp://www.msgroup.org/forums/mtt/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=15141

“Your theme–no surprise, no accident–resonates with me because my own view of crashes is the same: Most occur when an ordinary situation takes an unexpected turn. But why does the rider fail to anticipate it? Crashes are a relatively common occurrence, so we’re not talking about a meteor falling from the sky. Rather, the trigger is usually something that motorists are familiar with–a bend tightens, a driver fails to yield right of way, etc.

“Two ideas from my past reading seem relevant, both from cognitive research on chess players: SEEING THE FOREST, NOT JUST THE TREES In one study, when shown a board diagram to evaluate, expert players looked at the center and got an overall view with peripheral vision, while novices looked at individual pieces (see http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/25/science/25chess.html?hpw). This brings to mind the technique of softening central focus and widening peripheral awareness, which is found in several motorcycling books popular in the US, most notably Keith Code’s Twist of the Wrist II (see chapter 20 and following). Though Code’s emphasis is on track riding and awareness of the roadway as one plans a line, I use the same visual skill for awareness in traffic situations.

“FINDING ONE’S OWN ERRORS In another study, players talked out their thought process before making a move. Masters searched for vulnerabilities a prospective move would create while novices focused on how it could succeed (see http://www.nature.com/news/2004/040802/full/news040802-19.html). Similarly, a motorcyclist who looks for the pitfalls before acting will be less likely to get into a difficult situation than one who looks for advantages.

“This is partly a matter of attitude. I know I can be too hasty and make a bad decision, so I look for the downside before acting in whatever I do, motorcycling included. But it is also a matter of experience. A riding situation that ends with an unpleasant surprise–whether the outcome is a crash, a close call that requires evasive action, or merely a startled oh-s*** moment–is a learning opportunity if the rider takes advantage of it. Mentally catalog the incident for future reference, recall it when a similar situation develops, and…no surprise, no accident.

“Can the benefit of such experiences be gained in a less risky environment? I have learned a great deal from reading crash reports in the news (for example, see this thread: http://www.bayarearidersforum.com/forums/showthread.php?t=439735), but that’s time consuming and may not be effective for most people. Computer simulations, especially with the graphics now available, seem to be a promising approach. But research is needed to find out whether they would imprint lasting lessons and how to deliver them most effectively. Thanks for reading! I look forward to much more on your site.”

Dan Carter San Luis Obispo, California

Thanks for that thoughtful post, Dan. You make some interesting and relevant points. One problem is that what is a common event viewed across a population (for example, it’s well-known that motorcyclists crash at junctions or on bends) is sometimes a one-off for the rider concerned if it’s not survivable. Even if it is, it’s likely to be a very rare event. It’s no good relying on learning from experience, or even simply knowing that we’re more likely to be involved in a collision with a junction because our cumulative experience (right up to the point where it goes wrong) is that it hasn’t gone wrong yet, and that contibutes mightly to the surprise factor when what we don’t expect does happen. We have to help riders make a real and conscious identification with the high risk situations before they go wrong. And of course if we do survive a crash, collision or near-miss, we have to realise that the concept of a no-fault accident is a fallacy.

Though not entirely convinced by KC’s wide vision exercises (they simply gave me a headache!), the ‘situational awareness’ concept of expert chess players is interesting, and in my opinion, a valid one. I’ve talked in the past about how the best players in team games like soccer, basketball and American Football hold a superior mental map of where teammates and opponents are, as well as where they can move.

I wonder if anyone has ever done a study to see if expert chess players make better drivers?

The discussion of how a plan can break down is also a key point in how I organise my own training courses. Knowing what can go wrong is an  important check on over-confidence, something that can come with training that focuses solely on teaching better skills.

We’d like to investigate the effectiveness computer simulations too. The UK has for quite some time used hazard awareness videos as part of the riding and driving tests, and there is recent evidence that suggests they have been effective in reducing casualty rates for new road users

Thanks for your mail. We’ll be putting a newsletter together in the coming weeks to help people follow the development of our campaign, with more information on how you can support us. 


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