Brilliant cycling awareness safety video

Transport For London's brilliant "Do the Test" cycling safety video invites you to pay close attention to a video of some basketball players, then demonstrates just how little you really saw, ending with a voice-over that explains how easy it is to miss things you're not looking for, like cyclists:
This phenomenon is known as "change blindness" - only a tiny fraction of all the information going into your brain enters your consciousness. People often fail to see a change in their surroundings because their attention is elsewhere.

Even stranger, if you are concentrating on something, you can become blind to other events that you would normally notice. This "inattention blindness" is possibly the reason why motorists collide with cyclists.

Just as it is important for road users to keep an eye out for cyclists, cyclists must also take steps to ensure they are seen by motorists.

Link (Thanks, Mr Jalopy!)


  1. Video’s not viewable here thanks to our overzealous IT stazi, however I’m guessing it’s relying on the phenomenon of “Inattention Blindness”, well documented in a chapter of O’Reilly’s “Mind Hacks” and based on work done by UIUCs Visual Cognition lab. It’s a fun trick to play on friends :-)

  2. This phenomenon was the winner of the 2004 Ig Nobel prize for Psychology.

    The paper had a great title, “Gorillas in our midst: sustained inattentional blindness for dynamic events” (Simon and Chabris, Perception, vol 28, p 1059)

    There are videos of the original floating around on the web.

  3. XREY, those cyclists are just selfish dicks.

    Even though I’m addicted to speed as I fly through the streets and my groovy carbon steed, I obey traffic laws. As we all should.

    I tend to enjoy having my brain inside my skull and not splattered on the street.

  4. I guess I’ll do okay then. I got to about six and then said “why is there a bear waving at me?” and lost count.

  5. This is exactly the reason why I’m scared shitless to ride a motorcycle in traffic. I guess I’ll get over it, but damn.

  6. it’s easy to ride in traffic. Just make every single move predicated on deliberate homicidal intent by anything and everybody else. Seriously.

  7. Yeah I have no idea how many passes, but I caught the bear just fine. Of course I’m going to watch the bear over basketball.

    It should be: check to see if the bike has gears. This will save you the trouble of getting to know the cyclist. Also, I think they train the London bus drivers, as they tend to be pretty alright on cycling. Cab drivers, however, are evil.

  8. I thought this was so neat. Scary a bit, but still really neat. It helps me understand what the lady who hit me while I was cycling meant when she said I must’ve been going above the speed limit, because I “just came out of nowhere”. (Yeah, really my style. Riding 60km/h in 40C heat is fun times.)

    I do still like riding in traffic though.

  9. #3 XRey…#7 Gary is absolutely right. Those guys (and sometimes gals) are completely in the wrong. Cyclists of all abilities should follow basic traffic laws.

    Thanks for the video Cory. I signed up for an account so that I could comment on how important it is for both motorists and cyclists to be aware of each other. Every morning I strap on a helmet and head to work with the understanding that I have the same rights, but not the same capabilities as a motorist. Sometimes it’s frustrating, but if everyone paid attention, it can be a very rewarding experience.

  10. Brilliant. I ride a bicycle as well as a motorcycle here, in México City (the stats are about 1 motorcycle rider dead every 2 days here). It’s pretty dangerous but I try hard for the other motorists to see me (I always have the lights on, and use the horn a lot). Anyway, it’s almost a matter of chance to get involved in an accident :(

  11. The quote under the video refers to a different experiment entirely – though an equally funny one. The door experiment has to do with both change blindness and inattention blindness; the video (gorilla experiment) has to do with inattention blindness only. Change blindness occurs even when you’re TRYING to pay attention – the typical demonstration is to use a film where something changes between cuts.

    We studied these experiments in my intro cogsci class – we all thought it was hysterical too. And they didn’t even mention the title of the gorilla suit paper! That’s just great.

    @8/@11: In this context, you were subconsciously cued to look for something weird; if you had been shown this in the original laboratory context, you might well not have seen it. And yes, some small percent of people notice anyway – but the majority is plenty of people to run you over on a bike!

  12. As a long-time urban bicyclist I’ve been hit several times by cars, and once as a pedestrian. Except for the guy whose brakes weren’t working, they all said something like “I didn’t SEE you!”. These were all in broad daylight, usually at intersections, and I was not doing anything stupid or illegal. All at slow speeds, so no injuries. I rode several seconds on one woman’s hood before she noticed something was amiss. Her look of terror at that moment was priceless.

    If you cycle in traffic, find a place with soft grass and practice falling and rolling. Try to land on top of the car instead of underneath. It’s safer, and does a better job of training the driver to notice cyclists/pedestrians, next time.

  13. I hope drivers don’t see you when you get hit because that would be an accident. If they did see you and hit you anyway, it would be deliberate.

  14. XREY – This has nothing to do with cyclists obeying traffic laws. Ride a motorcycle, same thing happens routinely even though we’re completely legal. Happens often enough to pedestrians and even other cars too. I think the closing quote should have been simply “when you’re driving pay attention to driving.” (And yay for cyclists too.)

  15. Thanks, BONAFIDEBOB. It seems like most articles dealing with cyclist safety are followed by some comment about cyclists disobeying the law or needing to be more aware of their surroundings. For example, the recent case involving a Cupertino police officer who fell asleep at the wheel and killed to cyclists.

    Anyhow, I’ve been hit while cycling and it was 100% the driver’s fault. She just didn’t see me. It was broad daylight and she was just in a rush. And I’ll also add that I commute by bike every day of the year and always stop at red lights and stop signs. Oh, and I wear dayglo-colored clothing and have more blinking lights than a christmas tree.

    Just thought I’d add my experience.

  16. The road does not belong to automobile drivers. The number of times I have been angrily admonished for daring to ride my bicycle on the street, or been told by drivers that I’m not allowed on the road, goes to show that there’s a very strong expectation about the entitlement of automobile drivers to the road-space.

    This has very little to do with safety and more with the assumption that on the road, automobile drivers treat each other as equals, but everything else is responsible for watching out for its own ass.

    Automobile drivers are piloting one of the most deadly contraptions in the Western world – they have an overwhelming burden to make sure that they wield their vehicle/weapon responsibly. Bikes and pedestrians do have some degree of responsibility as well, but much less so since they’re not the ones who decided to hurtle giant hunks of metal around populated areas at high speed.

  17. A bit unbalanced; at the beginning they tell us specifically what to look for. In normal circumstances people just observe without concentrating on anything specific.

  18. I utterly failed, I couldn’t believe I missed the damn bear. Of course that might have been because I was at work. When I’m at work I automatically start tuning things out anyway.
    I walk quite a bit, to work, to the bar or the store. I treat every motorist as a potential murderer. I know they probably don’t mean any harm, but still. I’ve nearly been run down several times and one old bastard tried to run over me at a crosswalk after looking me straight in the eye. I think he saw me give him the finger though.

  19. In my city, the cycling routes have these little dinky traffic signs, maybe 1/2 or 1/3 the size of a regular traffic sign. They are terrible.

    I know what a stop sign looks like, I look out for them, and I stop at them, but these mini-signs do not look like the “real” thing; they are different enough from the pattern I’m looking for that I just don’t see them. I’m not the only person who has noticed this occurence – other people have confirmed the same thing.

    I recently noticed a mini-stop sign on a bike route I’d been taking to work for the past 6 months, and had not once noticed – I only noticed it because I was walking that day, so I WASN’T looking for traffic signs. I always slowed down, and often stopped, at that crossing because it’s the sensible thing to do there, but I had no idea there was a stop sign.

    Incidentally, this recalls what I was always taught as a safety rule:

    As a pedestrian, assume drivers can’t see you.
    As a cyclist, assume drivers can’t see.
    As a motorcyclist, assume they see you just fine, and want you dead.

  20. This is exactly why I would like to see the laws changed so that bicycles are not allowed on most major streets. Given the weight and speed disparity between cars and bicycles, it just makes no sense to mix bicycles in with cars on busy streets.

    I’ve also seen several cases of bicyclists blocking major streets while legally riding along. They were obeying the law and technically in the right, but they were causing a major traffic jam and inconveniencing a lot of people. Talk about selfish… I would be equally annoyed at a car driver poking along at 15 mph on a busy street.

    On less traveled neighborhood streets, bicycles are much safer and more reasonable.

  21. That’s why tou NEVER, EVER ride a bicycle in a bear suit.

    Through a basketball game.

    Or moonwalk.


  22. I can’t count the number of times a ‘blind’ driver almost killed me while I was on my bike, minding the law. Of course the one time I made a mistake and didn’t notice priority rights on an unmarked (and empty) street, I had a driver actually follow me yelling.

    My favourite was the time when, in slow traffic, a driver decided to get closer to the sidewalk so that he could overtake a tram, and almost crushed me as I was cycling past. I leapt off my bike and pulled it off the street at the last minute- it was only then that the driver saw me.

    It’s hell for bikers. Get on the street, you’re too slow and people get pissed off. Get on the sidewalk (you’re allowed to do that over here provided there is no bike path and you don’t endanger pedestrians), people get pissed off. Get on the bike path- oh, look, PARKED CARS AND PEDESTRIANS.

    Seriously, what is it about a bicycle that is so deserving of contempt?

  23. #26, small streets don’t get you everywhere you need to go. If drivers keep a safe distance from the sidewalk, there should be plenty of room for a bicycle to fit in there. But if you want to ban them from riding on busy streets, then make cycle paths, first.

  24. #28 – the secret to traffic cycling is to ride like you own the road – ride in the centre of the lane, overtake whenever possible – if you look in control and are obviously part of the traffic, cars tend to give you a little more respect (though there will always be a few who take offence to it..)

    it’s when you tootle along the kerb that traffic thinks it can pass you with no adjustment – if you are not fast enough to keep up with them, at least ride a good yard+ into the road, so cars have to go round you and you have room to manoeuvre if they get too close. they won’t like it, but they will notice you.

  25. I got pwned. I’ve heard of the experiments, so I counted passes and kept my eye out for the unusual. Saw the bear. Got the number of passes right, congratulated myself… then… Moonwalking!?! PWNED!!!

  26. eiconoclast , if it were illegal for me to be on
    the road how would I get to work? It’s dangerous
    to ride on sidewalks because people aren’t looking
    for fast moving wheeled vehicles there, and there
    aren’t bicycle paths all the way from my home
    to my office.

    I just wouldn’t feel right about the pollution
    I would make with a car when I am able-bodied
    and capable of transporting myself under my
    own power.

    Forget about the bus. I’m not spending 1.5 hours
    a day to go 6 miles, and I want to go wherever
    I want on my own schedule.

  27. I live in Houston, so I can only speak for this city, but many streets are narrow and bumpy and there is no way for a bicycle to fit between cars and the curb.

    While it’s probably safer for a bicycle to ride in the middle of the lane and block traffic, this results in many cars driving slowly, which increases pollution, and changing lanes to go around the bicycle, which makes accidents more likely.

    I don’t hate bicycles, I just don’t they belong on busy city streets. Cars are too fast, big, and heavy to mix with frail bicycles. While it’s true that car drivers SHOULD look out for bicycles, this video demonstrates that our brains are wired to make this hard. You can be careful and try to watch out for them, but they will always be harder to see AND much more vulnerable.

    I really, really DON’T want to kill or maim someone who is riding a bicycle. So it’s kind of scary to know that even on roads where the speed limit is 40 or 45 mph, a bicycle could be tootling along at 20 mph and be hard to see. And if I did happen to miss him, I could easily kill or permanently cripple him.

    I’ve also seen cases where a group of cars go from light to light (somewhere the lights are timed badly) and a bicycle passes all the stopped cars at the light, then the cars pass the bicycle when the light turns green. Then the bike passes the cars at the next light. And so on. Very dangerous.

    We did build some bike paths in Houston, but it’s so hot here and everything is so far apart, that they hardly ever get used. I rarely see any of them being used. And yet, to add them, lanes were narrowed and/or removed. Thus car traffic was made worse for . . . nothing, basically.

  28. It’s not just cyclists who are unseen. I once tried to signal traffic coming down a narrow hilly highway at a blind curve, with a waving road flag, next to my station wagon with blinking lights, so the drivers wouldn’t hit my engineer further down the road. 1/3 of the drivers never saw me. 1/3 of the drivers saw me and stared and kept driving the same speed ahead (while watching me. And me shouting at them to slow down). Only 1/3 of the drivers slowed down.

    Anyone have the reference to the study that shows that cars or other anomalies alongside the highway (such as a patrol car or pulled over car) actually create crashes because the driver’s eyes steer the car unconsciously towards what is seen?

  29. As many have pointed out – the only safe way to ride is to take a whole lane. If you’re off on the side of the lane, drivers either don’t notice you, or assume they can pass you without giving an inch, and make sharp right turns directly in front of you (or not even pas you first). If you take a lane, they acknowledge you and change lanes to pass.

    I don’t quite see how this should increase the chance of accidents. Giving everyone on the road enough room decreases the chance of accidents. If you can’t even change lanes safely, then get the expletive deleted off the road and stop blaming me.

    As for slowing traffic – I ride plenty fast, and almost invariably those who are most impatient to pass me, just end up just spending longer stuck at the next light. I don’t pass them in the same lane as they sit there though – that’s just the same stupidity, and invites them to pass me in the same lane as soon as the light goes green.

  30. Eiconoclast, what do you propose, then? Disallow all bikes? Just give the roads to cars? You can’t expect automobile drivers to pay attention to cyclists if you remove them from public view. How would cyclists get from point A to point B if they weren’t allowed on major roads?

    Your statement about how selfish it is for cyclists to take the whole lane is absurd. We’re wasting YOUR time? Have you ever commuted by bicycle anywhere? Do you realize how often we’re mistreated, cut off, turned in front of, doored, and generally despised on the road? Cars inhibit my ability to commute every single day. Should I start insisting they be banned from the roads because of how selfish they are?

  31. Given that roads are really designed for cars and used by cars more than bicycles by several orders of magnitude, and that the safety/mass/speed issue is so radically different between the two, yes, I’d ban bicycles from riding on major streets.

    I would say for them to take minor streets and stick to sidewalks and cross the street at crosswalks.

    No, this isn’t just because I personally feel bothered by all those annoying bicycles… but when one person on one bicycle slows down a bunch of people in cars, that person is being selfish.

    Also, changing lanes is more dangerous than driving straight in one lane. It’s not a matter of skill but a matter of risk. Changing lanes involves more risk. The more times people do it, the more likely there is to be an accident.

    I understand, though, that it is currently legal for bicycles to be on the road, so I treat them with respect and try not to run over them.

  32. The public roadways are there for the public… all of the public. Yes, they are made to accomodate cars. But that doesn’t mean the folks in the cars get everything to themselves. We all pay taxes to develop and maintain the roads. And if a road does not meet the needs to those using it, should the road be fixed, or the user removed from it?

    And why should the person in the car have a higher priority placed on his temporal convenience than the person on the bike? I don’t see how one comes to that conclusion. Perhaps someone could enlighten me if they can find the time in their busy schedule?

  33. Actually, in the U.S., the road system was originally created for bicyclists. Look it up.

  34. The roads that I see every day certainly appear to have been designed with cars in mind. The lanes, markings, signals, speed limits, etc… are all pretty much car-centric.

    I don’t think that one person in a car should have priority over one person on a bike. What I observed was that one person on a bike was delaying dozens of people in cars.

    As far as the public paying for roads… that doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone should be able to use them for anything… you can’t drive your wheelchair on the road. My kid can’t take his hot wheel on the road. We have all kinds of rules about what can and can’t drive on the road. For that matter, bicycles and motorcycles would probably fail many of the safety tests that are currently required of cars.

    Bike paths would be great… but how much should we spend on bike paths in Houston, for example, that nobody uses. We do have some that get a lot of traffic and I’m happy to spend money on keeping those up. We have others, though, that have been around for a decade or so, now, that still aren’t used. And they eliminated a traffic lane when they were installed. Those should be returned to car traffic since they aren’t useful.

  35. #28 “Seriously, what is it about a bicycle that is so deserving of contempt?”

    I’ve been asking myself that question a lot since I’ve been living in Australia. I’ve never ever asked myself that question while living in Germany.

    Infrastructure and culture has a lot more to do with it than all those lame bogus issues of red lights and stop signs…

    When cycling on the road I can really tell which drivers that overtake me have ridden a bike before in similar traffic and which ones pretty much want to make a statement about other people using THEIR road.

    Where cars really can take advantage of their speed to cross a certain meaningful distance, I think cyclists on the road are a nuisance and dangerous (mostly to themselves). That’s where dedicated cycle lanes should be built on footpaths or on the road.

    But in the inner cities with traffic lights every 500 meters anyway? Slow the whole lot down to 40 kph or so and let anything that could remotely be used for personal transportation share the fun.

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