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The role of perception in cycling

© Martina Hertel

While the amount of accidents with personal injuries in the past years had sunk in almost all traffic types, the amount of heavily injured cyclists had not been reduced in the same degree. On behalf of BASt the visual and acoustical perception processes of cyclists had been analysed by HFC Human-Facors-Consult GmbH. Special focus had been misperceptions which may contribute cycle accidents.

The analyses showed  the necessity of further research needs, i.e. the comprehension of visual and acoustic perception of cyclists. Presumably, traffic environment exacerbates information reception and perceptual function. Trainings, campaigns, and infrastructure modifications may foster perception processes and may lead to an improvement of cyclists' estimations of the traffic situations.

On the awareness of traffic situations three cycling specific concepts had been identified:

  1. Cyclists focus on the search of the safest way through traffic.
  2. Differently to car drivers, cyclists monitor the space on their right and left side.
  3. Cyclists seek for eye contact with car drivers on junctions and intersections.

Primarily attention focus on sectors where cars are expected, and not on vulnerable road users. Roads with low quality require more visual concentration. Listening to music and use of smartphones while cycling have impacts on the acoustic perception, and extend reaction time. There are special risks for children and elderly road users due to their development stage respectively age-related perception, motoric, and cognitive skills.

In one of four accidents caused by cyclists, a visual perceptional error of the cyclist was described. An identification which environmental and personal factors contributed to the occurrence of perceptional errors showed that they occur more often when turning into or crossing an intersection, and at driveways or side roads. Cyclists under 15 years have the most perceptional errors.

The findings of the task analysis showed insights in typical perception mechanisms. For instance, special informational attractions (i.e. a bus stop, a vehicle at a gateway) led to a change from attraction driven attention to an objective driven information seeking.

The traffic behind cyclists perceive mostly acoustical unless the ambient noise is low. With high ambient noise acoustical perception is realized as error-prone and cyclists need to check the traffic behind through looking over their shoulders, except they have to make decisions under time pressure.

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28. December 2016
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Bundesanstalt für Straßenwesen, Nr.: 24/16 (
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