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Do headlights affect a driver's perception of motorcycle speeds?

Riding a motorcycle comes with some inherent risks with which most riders are quite familiar. They know that they can be harder to see on the road; they know that they can be severely injured in a crash; they know that they are more exposed to the elements than other motorists.

In most cases, riders will do whatever they can to protect themselves from these risks, whether that includes wearing helmets and certain articles of clothing or taking safe driving classes. However, there are some risks that a rider can't do anything about. For example, studies have shown that certain aspects of a bike can affect how others perceive its motion.

One published study explored how drivers perceive the speed of motorcycles at night. Many motorcycle accidents happen at night, and researchers conducted the study to figure out why this might be.

They found that people are much less accurate in judging the approach speed of a vehicle when it has only one headlight. Their judgment improved when there were two headlights that could be seen; study participants were even better at judging a vehicle's speed when there were three headlights configured in a triangle.

This study should shed some light on why drivers end up pulling out in front of and cutting off motorcycles, which typically only have one headlight. Rather than take a second or two to wait and give bikers enough time to pass by, too many motorists make the risky, reckless move of cutting it too close and pulling out in front of an approaching motorcycle.

The fact that there is a scientific reason behind the misperception of motorcycle speeds is important and it should make drivers more aware and willing to give bikers space and time. Unfortunately, this doesn't always happen and motorcyclists end up paying the price for a poor decision made by an impatient or reckless motorist.

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