Almost two out of three (61%) multi-vehicle crashes involving a motorcycle, the other driver was responsible. In motorcycle intersection collisions, the other driver is responsible in 71% of crashes.
In many cases these drivers say they simply did not see the motorcyclist. There is also evidence that drivers often make mistakes after they have detected a motorcycles presence (Brooks and Guppy, 1990).
Despite the overwhelming proportion of drivers being responsible for motorcycle crashes, there have been few attempts to change driver awareness and behaviour around motorcyclists. Instead the tendency has been to regard the driver as a passive victim of motorcycle inconspicuity and to focus on increasing the conspicuity of the riders.
There is also evidence that drivers who lack awareness of motorcyclists are more likely to be involved in crashes with motorcycles (Hurt, 1981). Researchers into this phenomenon have termed it "inattentional blindness". Put simply, it means that if you are not expecting to see something, you won't see it.
These findings are important and suggest that motorcycle crashes could be reduced by changing motorists expectations and perceptual behaviour. This could involve changing road safety messages to be more specific by establishing patterns of expectation with lists and labels. Rather than exhorting drivers to look to see if anything is coming, the message should be, for example to check for any "motorcyclists". Such strategies could have a major impact particularly on the 55% of all multi-vehicle motorcycle crashes that occur at intersections.
Lack of attention and driver attitude to the driving task are also major road safety issues. Poor driving practices such as changing lanes on curves and failing to maintain crash avoidance space or to check over the shoulder are compounded when drivers divide their attention between other tasks such as eating or using mobile telephones.
The relative contribution of such behaviour to road crashes is not documented nor have road safety campaigns focused on such issues. The recent introduction of more severe penalties for using a mobile phone while driving is a welcome initiative.