Safety Skills: Don’t Stare

Don Gomo, Safety Skills Columnist

The more we look ahead and consider a possible conflict, the better we are able to avoid it

by Don Gomo

Ever notice that more often than not, things our parents used to tell us when we were kids seem to come full circle, and we wind up saying the same things? Some we found out were just throwaway comments to avoid dealing with stuff, but a lot of times they repeated themselves for specific, important reasons. When it comes to the expression “don’t stare,” they may have meant it in a different way than we will be talking about this time around; in this case, learning not to stare can help in preventing an accident.
Some of us may have heard about target fixation, or you at least have some understanding of what that means. In a nutshell, it describes the combination of mental and physical (your eyes) focus on a point that excludes information and/or vision from other sources in the surrounding area. Fixating on particular external stimuli causes a lapse in focus, thus creating a momentarily dangerous situation that could ultimately result in a collision. Target fixation was first recognized as an issue during WWII when pilots would crash their fighter planes into the object they were trying to avoid. The object consumed so much of their attention that they wound up flying directly into it.
This is a difficult problem to explain to a rider, plus it’s also difficult to track as a cause for collisions. One could easily estimate that it may have had a part in more collisions than we like to consider, no matter if the accident was limited to one motorcycle or if it involved multiple vehicles. While the process of avoiding target fixation has both physical and mental aspects, it’s not as easy to teach as squeezing a clutch lever or applying pressure to brakes. There are probably many undocumented collision reports that say that target fixation played a major part in a collision.
So how do we deal with something that is a persistent hazard, one that is not easy to avoid? Good question. First, we need to realize that target fixation may not be what our eyes see in the actual moment, but what our mind puts together from information our eyes have seen, which, depending on the situation, may be the start of a loss of focus. Many times, the situation is one that suddenly develops, and panic takes over, which unfortunately enhances the fixation. Things go poorly from there—quickly.
To take steps to avoid these problems, we need to start thinking Big Picture regarding our surroundings. I have discussed the strategy that the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) promotes: Search, Evaluate, Execute (SEE). This needs to be engraved on our consciousness to prevent accidents. You need to constantly check the front, back, and sides of your motorcycle. Search for any possible hazards, Evaluate these hazards’ potential risks, and Execute by making the proper adjustments or at least developing an escape plan.
This doesn’t mean relentless swerving, braking hard, or employing the panicked use of other skills to avoid every possible hazard. The more we look ahead and consider a possible conflict, the better we are able avoid it. Being untrained, inexperienced, or careless about this process could result in a rider staring at an object, which in turn just raises the overall risk factor—not good.
Taking steps to avoid that problem should include keeping your eyes in a continuous scan mode, avoiding complacency regarding your surroundings and considering that almost any situation can become hazardous. This is far better than reacting suddenly because you weren’t mentally or physically prepared. You don’t want panic to take over. Granted, there may be situations that suddenly develop, situations that don’t allow for ample time to prepare for your next move, but the more we use the strategy of SEE plus develop proper skills, the better chance we have of avoiding problems. Keep your eyes and mind open, take in all the information you can as early as possible, and, as your parents may have told you more than once, don’t stare!