Cycling enthusiasts are often eager to get out on the roads in the spring, as the New Jersey winter is often too wet and cold for enjoyable cycling. Whether you bike for exercise, as a way to get out of the house or as a way to decrease your environmental impact, it’s important that you always have a focus on safety when you head out onto city streets on a bicycle, especially early in the season.

Cyclists typically are very safety-minded, but the biggest risk you face won’t be your own mistakes. Instead, they will be other people on the road, especially drivers in larger, enclosed vehicles who can’t seem to bother themselves to look for bicyclists, pedestrians and even motorcycles while driving, which could mean you get hurt in a crash that they cause.

Driving puts a lot of stress on the eyes and brain

Although you may think of driving as just part of your daily routine, it is a stressful experience for your nervous system, which has to not only help you control the vehicle itself but also constantly monitor your environment for safety.

Traveling at high speeds over great distances means that you will see many different vehicles and spaces during your daily commute. Your brain has to prioritize what to focus on while you drive.

Typically, the things that you think of as threats or safety issues will be what you recognize the most easily on the road. People tend to more readily see larger vehicles, while they may not notice smaller vehicles and pedestrians specifically because they don’t feel concerned about them.

Scientists call this strange phenomenon inattentional blindness

The idea that you can see something with your eyes and not actually recognize it with your brain in any meaningful sense is an idea backed by psychological research. Scientists call this particular quirk of human physiology inattentional blindness.

Even brightly-colored bicycles with reflectors and lights installed may go unnoticed by drivers whose mental focus is not wholly on the job of driving. The more distracted or busy a driver is, the more likely they are to overlook potentially concerning situations on the road, including the presence of a bicycle nearby.

Although this dangerous phenomenon has a name, that doesn’t mean it serves as an excuse for people who hurt cyclists. Not noticing a cyclist won’t excuse the driver from their liability in a crash they cause due to inattention.