Recent research by a Texas Tech University psychologist suggests that an object’s size affects distance perception, which could explain the basis of car drivers miscalculating motorcyclists’ distance and speed. The regularity of this problem isn’t necessarily a case of poor driving or carelessness, but may be related to a basic human judgment error.
According to Pat DeLucia, the brain uses two visual information cues for judging time to impact.
In the first, a moving object is reflected on the eye’s retina. It expands as it approaches the eye, providing the brain accurate information about when the object will hit. This is called an optical invariant.
The brain also uses “rules of thumb” as well, such as various “artist” depth cues as a shortcut, she said. Many times, the brain interprets objects with a larger retinal image as closer. Because motorcycles are smaller than cars, the brain may use this shortcut to judge a smaller motorcycle farther away than it actually is, DeLucia said.
The findings suggest that perception is based on multiple information sources.
This size-arrival effect could lead drivers to misjudge when a vehicle would arrive at an intersection and could be considered a contributing factor in motorcycle/vehicle accidents.
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