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EYE CONTACT - why it doesn't work

Updated: Aug 16, 2022

and why we should forget it


Here’s a snippet from an article on an online motorcycle magazine site, in a series about how to avoid common crashes. Not surprisingly it’s starts with the SMIDSY collision with a vehicle turning at a junction.


This particular statement leapt out at me:


“The number of drivers who have pulled out on while I’ve been maintaining eye contact with them while wearing a clear visor is very worrying. The shock in the face of the driver is the scariest thing to me, it means that person looked to the right, made full eye contact me and still pulled out while I was sounding my horn and taking evasive action! Frightening stuff.”


Now, just think about that for a moment.


Looking our way? The best we can say is “they MIGHT see us”



The writer says that enough drivers have pulled out whilst he’s been maintaining eye contact for it to be ‘very worrying’.


Does that suggest anything to you?


Might it be that if drivers continue to pull out whilst ‘making eye contact’ than in fact they AREN’T actually seeing the bike?


And the writer has actually spotted this, but hasn’t actually realised that the ‘shock in the face of the driver’ is a big clue.


That ‘shock’ is the moment the driver actually SPOTS the bike. The shock is the result of the SURPRISE! at seeing it.


Take a bit of time to watch drivers at junctions. Watch HOW they look in our direction. You’ll often see a snap of the head . That’s the moment we’re detected. You’ll often see the driver then track us by moving his or her head.


That’s when the driver really does look at us, rather than in our direction.


I say ‘really does look at us’ because eye contact is an entirely faulty concept.


The eye’s foveal zone – the part of the visual field that gives us clear and sharply focused colour vision – is just a few degrees across. Anything out of this zone is fuzzy.

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You can test this easily by holding your arm out, sticking your thumb up in the air then looking at the thumb nail. Now look at the top knuckle on your thumb. Even though it’s just a centimetre or so below your nail you MUST move your eyes and refocus.


And remember too, that the eye has a depth of field just like a camera. Think how hard it is to focus on an object if there are other things in the same direction but at a different distance. We can have the same problem with a camera, trying to focus on a small object when there are other things in front of it and behind it.


In the case of a bike, it’s entirely possible that the driver we were so busily trying to make eye contact with was actually looking at and focused on the car ten metres behind us.


So that’s another reason why trying to make eye contact is pretty much a waste of time – the driver can appear to be looking straight at us whilst focused on a car behind us. The motorcycle ahead of it never registers in the driver’s consciousness. It’s not ‘carelessness’ or ‘not looking properly’, it’s just how our eyes work.


So here’s a question for you. If the writer keeps ‘making eye contact’ yet it clearly doesn’t work, why keep trying to make something of it?


My advice? Forget it and assume we’ve not been seen. We’ll be far better prepared when the driver does make the ‘looked but failed to see’ error and pulls into our path!


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