Monday, 12 November 2012

A thought on SMIDSYs

As I was out cycling yesterday, I found myself thinking about SMIDSYs (Sorry, Mate, I didn't see you - the seemingly standard response to users of two-wheeled vehicles from inattentive motorists; I have heard, word for word, this very phrase myself). I was riding in a predominantly black outfit on a black bicycle and I found myself thinking about what might happen if the worst came to the worst and some distracted or inattentive driver failed to see me and there was a collision.

Now, let's be clear: it was a bright, sunny day, and I was perfectly visible for anybody who cared to look, but I knew from years of observing these things that, should a driver pull a SMIDSY, there was every chance that they, any police who got involved, and any media who might report on it, would automatically and unthinkingly shift the blame to me, saying or implying that it was my fault that the driver didn't see me because I didn't take sufficiently extreme steps to attract that person's attention (and, of course, no actions could ever be extreme enough to overcome the societal inertia on this point...!).

But then, I realized this: if there were a SMIDSY event that day, there were actually hard data to which I could point to show that my appearance wasn't in fact the issue. This idea could potentially be very useful! Specifically, I had been out cycling at that point for about 2 hours; hundreds of motorists had successfully seen me and dealt appropriately with me in a range of streets, junctions and country lanes. Given that hundreds of other motorists had had no problem with my appearance, if somebody did hit me, the data demonstrably show that my appearance wasn't the problem. My appearance had been tested and had passed the proving in hundreds of separate events. If somebody overlooked me that day, clearly the first thing we should be looking at to explain the event is them, and not my appearance, even if only for reasons of Occam's Razor.

So my thought for today is that this issue, of "Why did this particular driver and none of the others have a problem seeing me?" should perhaps be raised more often in SMIDSY discussions.


Jonno said...

The standard response when the driver did see the cyclist is that "the cyclist came out of nowhere". A clearer admission of inappropriate speed would be hard to elicit.

citychurches said...

I didn't see you should always be read as I wasn't looking properly.

That said, I still wouldn't recommend primarily black cycling gear, even on a lovely sunny day like yesterday.

Rob Ainsley said...

Ah, but citychurches... the research on hi-vis clothing and accident reduction isn't particularly conclusive, is it? And wasn't there some recent research from ?Sweden that suggested dark clothing on a bright day was actually safer? (Ian...?)

I suspect, as with the helmet debate, that the viz biz is something of a distraction, and that good road practice from all parties is what actually determines safety.

Matthew Jones said...

I think along these lines: each driver has a small probability of not seeing you- a very small subset of drivers are trained to be aware of the limitations of human vision and will look more deliberately, at the other end of the scale some are not so good at observation, even those will generally see you though. I expect there's a fair variation amongst drivers. You have lots of interactions at junctions, eventually there's a fair chance of a SMIDSY.

If the difference in driver observation is quite large then a small subset of drivers may have a much higher SMIDSY potential- I've no idea if there's been any research on this, although it's likely since it's important in a number of fields.

I've done it- it surprised me at the time, I failed to see a car when scanning left in broad daylight. A Volvo nonetheless.

Patrick Carr said...

Somebody tweeted the other day that the phrase SMIDSY should count as an admission of careless driving. I quite agree.

Although clothing colour is demosnstrabley irrelevant in accidents, I would imagine that black is a good colour for contrast on a bright day, and I wear it accordingly. Anyway, there are loads of black BMWs and taxis around and I've never seen one of those driven dangerously.

Ian Walker said...

The research showing that black was a good colour when the background is light was from Israel.

I should say that my above article notwithstanding, as a psychologist I subscribe to the view that lapses in attention in humans are inevitable, and that therefore what we really should do is design accordingly. Look at the air traffic system, for example, where it is taken as read that pilots will have lapses and the system is designed so that these can't cause problems - a stark contrast to the road traffic system!

So I guess my above comments might primarily be intended only for those who support the status quo, who think our current roads are fine and that there's no need to allow for attention failures. I did think about writing something to that effect, but decided to keep it more snappy - I have a tendency to go on forever once I start trying to cover every subtlety and eventuality!

Steve A said...

Your case becomes even stronger as days, weeks, months, and years pass before the SMIDSY occurs. Considering it all, one wonders why the police assume otherwise.