I’d like now to talk about a very important skill that the safe rider practises continually — Vigilant Scanning.
On the other side of the coin is a phenomenon that strangely seems to affect those of us on two wheels more than it does drivers of “regular” vehicles – Hazard Fixation.
Less experienced, or less vigilant riders may approach the scene below with the kind of concentration shown here:
They are largely concentrating on what appears to be the immediate hazard, and not really taking in the whole environment. This may be due to sheer lack of experience on the road (a few close-calls is sometimes a very effective, but harsh, teacher). Or it may be because, as a less experienced rider, too much of their concentration is being taken up with controlling the machine.
Whatever may be the cause, what we need to aim for is a constant scanning of the environment, taking in visual clues, and actively seeking the most information from our surroundings. Like this:
This active scanning of our environment is something that needs to be continually taking place for every moment that we are out on the road. Even if we observe a potential hazard, we still need to keep scanning our environment to take in the most information possible. Indeed, some hazards — or potential hazards — demand that we be even more vigilant about this scanning process once they have been identified (possibly to prepare our “escape route” should a potential hazard develop into a real-and-present danger).
It is worthwhile considering that most crashes occur because there occurs the “perfect storm” of two or more events occurring at the same time (the traffic light changes to red just as the car moves into your lane, for example). We need to be constantly scanning so that we can identify all of these events as they occur. If we were to allow one hazard to take all of our attention, we could easily miss that second, or third, that combines to make up that “perfect storm”.
The next time you are out riding, be a little introspective, and check which version of the above you tend toward. If you find you are not actively — and constantly — scanning every part of your environment all the time you are riding, then, congratulations, you have identified a part of your riding which needs attention — and you know what to do about it!
As mentioned above, we never want our concentration to be fixed on one perceived hazard to the exclusion of other potential hazards in our environment.
An extreme case of allowing our concentration to dwell too much on one hazard is called hazard fixation. This is where something grabs our attention so much that we (a) miss another hazard which can become more urgent than one the one we’re fixating on, or (b) actually connect with the very thing on which we’re fixating!
Hazard fixation seems to be something which affects motorcyclists more than car drivers, and, honestly, I have no explanation why. I just know that it is a very real phenomenon that we have to be extra vigilant to avoid.
Quite a few times over the years, I have observed riders go “too hot” into a corner, suddenly become worried that they could run off the road, and fixate on their projected “landing” place. Would you like to take a guess where they all ended up?
A less drastic example is something that I, personally, still have to be vigilant about after 35 years of riding. That is avoiding objects in the road.
I wonder how many of my fellow riders have experienced the following? You see something in the road that you should avoid (a cardboard box, a discarded coke can, etc…). You know that you need to avoid it — and have plenty of time to do so. Yet, somehow, an almost supernatural pull takes over and eventually “crunch”, you still manage to hit it. Does this sound familiar? Yes, hazard fixation is a very real phenomenon that we have to actively force ourselves to avoid.
How Do You Avoid Hazard Fixation?
Stop looking at where you don’t want to go — and look where you do. It’s really as simple as that.
Look where you want to go, and take the bike with you!
If you are riding, and you see something in the road ahead of you that you would rather avoid, this is a perfect time to remember what we discussed about counter-steering. Slight forward pressure on the handlebar — in the direction you wish to go — will initiate the manoeuvre, but look away from the obstacle. Look toward where you wish to go.
So, in short, Scanning is good, Hazard Fixation is bad. They are both things we can improve upon by consciously examining our riding habits and taking pride in being the very best motorcycle rider we can be.