Pedestrians, cyclists and motorcycle enthusiasts all face significant risk when they must share streets with enclosed motor vehicles. Although the law mandates that people share the road, not everyone pays attention to all kinds of traffic.

People in passenger vehicles can easily cause crashes with a motorcycle, a bicyclist or a pedestrian. All too often, the driver who merged without looking or who turned directly into a pedestrian will claim that they didn’t see the other party until after the crash occurred.

While this may sound like a flimsy excuse, research bears out the idea that people simply don’t see what they aren’t looking for on the road. Since pedestrians, motorcycles and bikes pose very little risk to enclosed vehicles, drivers don’t spend as much mental energy on worrying about them as they do other, larger vehicles on the road.

Drivers may suffer from inattentional blindness

When you drive, you travel at high speeds through a variety of environments, which means that your brain has to process a massive amount of information at any given moment. Your eyes and brain are in constant communication, and your brain prioritizes what it thinks is most important to see or notice.

When someone doesn’t actively think about monitoring the environment for bicycles, motorcycles or people walking on the street, they may not notice these other people legally sharing the road with them until it is too late. This so-called inattentional blindness creates substantial risk for anyone who likes to bike, ride motorcycles, jog or just walk for a little exercise and fresh air, as they never know when they might cross paths with someone who simply doesn’t see them.

Inattentional blindness is not a defense against liability

While researchers have given a name to the phenomenon of drivers not noticing other people on the road, inattentional blindness is not an excuse that reduces someone’s financial or legal liability if they cause a crash.

Instead, this phenomenon should serve as a warning to others of the importance to remain vigilant on the road for their own safety, as others may not be prioritizing safety to the same degree. Watching carefully for inattentive drivers can help you stay safer, although nothing can totally eliminate the risk caused by other people on the road.