Reception Perception Conception Deception

Riders and drivers both use skills to control their respective vehicles, some of those skills are similar and some of those are different. A skill is a learned act…something that is practiced, some would say an act that is perfected or others would say an act that although well rehearsed never achieves perfection.

The manner in which we learn to perform an action and to gain a skill is largely determined by what our experiences are of it and what the experiences are of supporting acts. Those experiences are largely determined by how those stimuli are delivered and how they are received and how the human brain then interprets those stimuli.

Essentially there are physiological factors that determine how we experience things and there are historical and supporting factors that will affect that performance. 

Okay, this is becoming more complex than it needs to be and this article is really about how we interpret what we see, hear and feel, how that interpretation is affected and what then affects our response.

E.g. If a person is blind from birth, then their perception or idea of what an object is will be different to what a person with sight will have of the same object. They may utilise other senses more but essentially the lack of sight will alter how someone learns about an object and how it is distinguishable from another.

E.g. The human eye is able to distinguish varying light and colours at different times of day and night, but depending whether it is dark or daylight will determine which parts of the eye are more receptive to that light stimulation. In daylight the eye is able to distinguish colours better than at night.

So these two examples are really concerned with the physical ability to receive the stimuli. The next examples are concerned with how that information is processed.

E.g. Is it Yellow or is it White? Different people as individuals will tend to interpret the same stimulation in different ways. A larger group of people may have a collective and similar interpretations, whilst a smaller group will tend to be more varied. One person may consider an action as a threat, whilst another does not. One person may consider a manoeuvre as risky, whilst another may not. Etc, etc.

E.g. Is it a bird or a plane? Depending on what a person’s individual experiences and knowledge of the greater world is will determine whether they recognise a stimulus and also whether they comprehend what it is or what it’s meaning is. Consider a neanderthal plucked from their time and placed in our time. They would have no relative experiences to draw upon to enable them to understand the modern world.

E.g. One for the road…too many! Alcohol, drugs & medication may affect how we interpret situations and how we react and the speed and precision of that reaction. Tiredness & fatigue will also affect the interpretation and reaction performance.

Ok, so we have recognition and perception…we have experienced something and our learning has enabled us to have an idea what is it…then we can have an idea of how that relates to other ideas, then we have understanding and a concept, etc. Next we need to either take or not take an action, either have a response or not…

And finally this is where we as riders and drivers find ourselves.


In previous articles I have written about TIME…time on the road, time of the day, time and space in between vehicles. But this article is really about the time it takes for riders and drivers to see & recognise a situation, have an idea of whether it is a potential hazard or developing one, the time to decide whether we should take action to avoid and then the physical time to make a control input to achieve the desired result…be that braking or steering to avoid or navigating through a bend etc.

A rider in general terms has a more elevated and open view of the road, whilst a car driver has a lower and restricted view. Lorry, van and bus drivers in general have an elevated and restricted view of the road ahead. Therefore the ability to see and recognise situations, conditions and potential hazards will be different for us all.

As riders, it is popular to believe that drivers should be looking out for motorcyclists and they should see a rider approaching!

Well, whilst drivers should be looking out for motorcyclists, they should also be looking out for cyclists, pedestrians…in fact all road users. That could be argued is the responsibility of all road users! However, whether a driver is looking out or not, does not necessarily mean that they will be able to see or notice a rider approaching!

This is not absolving drivers of their responsibility to operate their vehicles in a safe manner with consideration of other vehicles, but it means there might be physical & physiological barriers that affect that performance.

When riding or driving, what we know of what is occurring is based upon what we see, hear and feel and what our previous experiences are. Unfortunately we may interpret these incorrectly or too slowly and either react in an appropriate manner but too ‘slowly’ or react in an inappropriate manner, both of which may lead to an accident or near miss. This is where we have ‘deception’, which in essence is a chain reaction of misunderstanding!

Examples of common deceptions for drivers concerning motorcycles are:

Closing Speed of a Motorcycle at junctions.

Motorcycle ‘hidden’ in a background of multiple targets (traffic & Pedestrians) or multiple and or similar colours.

Motorcycle travelling without lateral movement! Appearing not to move against a background!

Consideration of weather and road conditions.

There are many more, but suffice to say even if the driver is ‘looking out for motorcycles’, there will be a lot of interference that may affect their ability to see a rider. This is compounded by, fatigue, illness, medication – drugs – alcohol – dehydration, etc and this will also affect the interpretation and reaction method and time.

As an example to illustrate this process from a rider’s point of view.

A rider, who may been feeling unwell, has had sleepless nights, etc, starts to ride along a road in the morning rush hour. Whilst riding, the rider experiences a dull pain in his left arm, but although conscious of it, proceeds along to his destination.

As the ride continues there is a car waiting to emerge at a side junction, the rider notes the car waiting and maintains speed and course. At about the same time, the rider feels a sharp pain in the left arm again and his attention is momentarily drawn away from the road ahead.

The driver of the car waiting to emerge at the junction, also notes the rider approaching at some distance. However the driver believes there is enough time and space to emerge and join the queuing traffic in the same direction as the motorcyclist is travelling.

As the driver emerges from the side junction, a moped rider who has been riding more slowly towards the left of the lane, then collides with the car. The motorcyclist then as glancing ahead notes the collision and swerves to the right of the lane to avoid, but then collides with another vehicle performing an overtake of the motorcycle.

Either by distraction or physical condition or by limited view or focussing on one particular target, both rider and driver have had individual factors that have contributed to the collisions.

Of course all drivers must improve their awareness of other road users, especially those more vulnerable to injury…such a motorcyclists and cyclists. However both drivers and riders need to be aware of situations and conditions that may affect the decision making process. Taking these factors into account, and having a contingency to deal with them will enable the rider to develop an early recognition of potential hazardous situations. More awareness and practice will improve proficiency in detection and reaction.

Using these skills in conjunction with improving riding and driving skills will create an increasing window to deal with situations more appropriately.

Whilst accidents will always occur, a rider can dramatically reduce the probability of being involved in one when constantly acknowledging factors that will reduce a riding and driving performance in one’s self and others.

Reception, Perception, Conception, Deception!


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