In California, lane-splitting is a legal and common practice. Many of us love it for the obvious time savings and because it allows the rider to take greater control over his personal safety.
Some riders seem to have frequent close calls while splitting, while others can’t remember the last time they had an issue in the same conditions. There can be a lot of differences in their approach that may account for this, but in this post we will consider a key visual skill.
How a rider uses his eyes is crucial to seeing a potential threat as early as possible. There is a lot of advice out there to scan, watch drivers’ heads to see if they turn, see if you can see a driver’s eye in his mirror, to watch the front tires of cars to see if the car has begun to steer, etc. I’ve always been skeptical when riders say they rely on these things. It’s a lot of detail to keep track of.
All of these tactics share a common problem; they require the rider to move his eyes frequently. This focuses attention on one thing at a time and creates the possibility that the rider will be looking in the wrong place at the wrong moment. The rider will also be affected by saccadic masking, a phenomenon where the brain literally does not receive visual input while the eyes are moving. Keith Code discusses saccadic masking in this article: http://www.motorcyclistonline.com/less-more-visual-experiment-code-break
An alternate approach that works very well is to maintain a steady gaze into the space ahead while maintaining a wide field of view. The eyes are aimed straight ahead but the rider keeps his attention spread across the whole field of view. This makes it easy to see any changes in the available space instantly, no matter which side it comes from. It’s a simple procedure, with very little to remember and it works well in inclement weather, in the dark and so on.
By doing this, you see the only thing that matters – changes in the space ahead – as early as possible. This gives you the most time to react, whether by slowing down, speeding up or changing direction. It should noticeably reduce the occasions in which you are surprised by drivers while splitting and make the overall experience more relaxing.