I was copied on an email thread recently about motion-induced blindness (MIB). That's a phenomenon where moving objects in an observer's peripheral vision can disappear. Researchers think this can cause motor vehicle collisions when a driver simply can't see someone approaching from the side. Awareness here is key: one can avoid MIB by not simply staring in front of the car, but rather shifting one's gaze every few seconds. We've all heard from driver's ed that you should check your mirrors every few seconds, and that helps avoid MIB as well.
Here's the entire email thread:
SOMETHING DRIVERS NEED TO BE AWARE OF: MOTION-INDUCED BLINDNESS
In a motor accident, where a speeding car hits a slower moving vehicle coming from the side, the speeding car driver often swear that they just didn’t see the vehicle coming from the left or right. Well, they aren’t lying. They really don’t see the vehicle coming from the side, in spite of broad daylight.
This phenomenon on the car drivers’ part is known as “Motion-Induced Blindness.” It is definitely frightening and explained at the website noted below.
Once airborne, pilots are taught to alternate their gaze between scanning the horizon and scanning their instrument panel, and never to fix their gaze for more than a couple of seconds on any single object. They are taught to continually keep their heads on a swivel and their eyes always moving. Because, if you fix your gaze on one object long enough while you yourself are in motion, your peripheral vision goes blind.
‘Till about three decades ago, this “heads on swivel & eyes moving” technique was the only way to spot other aircraft in the skies around. Now days they have on-board radars, but the old technique still holds good.
Just click on the link below for a small demonstration of motion-induced blindness. You will see a revolving array of blue crosses on a black background. There is a flashing green dot in the centre and three fixed yellow dots around it. If you fix your gaze on the green dot for more than a few seconds, the yellow dots will disappear at random, either singly, or in pairs, or all three together.
In reality, the yellow dots are always there - just move your focus to see them.
Just watch the yellow dots for some time to ensure that they don’t go anywhere!
So, if you are driving at a high speed on a highway, and if you fix your gaze on the road straight ahead for not very long, you will not see a car, a scooter, a buggy, a bicycle, a buffalo or even a human being approaching from the side.
NOW REVERSE THE SITUATION. If you are crossing a road on foot and you see a speeding car approaching, there’s a 90% chance that the driver isn’t seeing you, because his/her peripheral vision may be blind. And you may be in that blind zone!