Motorcycles and the Dangers of Tunnel Vision

The human eye is an amazing organ! and together with another amazing organ – the brain, it provides us with our vision. (and could we ride our bikes without our vision?…)

Just like any other organ in our body the eye can also suffer from imperfections, diseases and medical conditions. One of these conditions is called tunnel vision, and is defined as the tendency to focus exclusively on a single or limited objective or view.

However, tunnel vision can also occur as a momentary condition in people who otherwise do not suffer from the medical condition. And this is what I would like to write about today.

But first, let’s try to understand how our vision works.

Our Field of Vision

Our field of vision is divided into two parts: the central vision and the peripheral vision.

The central vision is like a narrow cone, coming out of the centre of the eye, providing us with sharp vision of a relatively small area of focus. It is “wired” to the part of the brain which is responsible for evaluating situations and making decisions.

The peripheral vision is the field of vision outside the centre of gaze. It enables us to detect things happening around us without the need to turn our head. The peripheral vision cannot focus on things but has the ability to see light and movement much quicker and much better than the central vision, even when not directly looking at them.

When it comes to riding a motorbike the central vision can determine our exact direction (“you go where you look”), identify obstacles on the road and see the behaviour of other drivers. The peripheral vision can recognize things like vehicles coming out of side streets, slow traffic ahead and other dangers. It is also responsible for our speed, pace, balance and reaction speed.

Tunnel Vision

As mentioned above, tunnel vision can occur as a momentary condition, usually as a reaction to stress or danger. The vision gets focused on the danger, paying attention to details in a very small area in the centre of the field of vision, while ignoring/missing all the details outside it. It is like looking at the world through a tunnel or a pipe, hence the name “tunnel vision”.

Target Fixation on the Danger
Target Fixation on the Danger

When a stressful or dangerous situation occurs while riding a bike, the brain focuses the vision on the threat, locking on the danger (Target Fixation), losing the ability to detect what is happening in the rest of the field of vision. This can be disastrous because the solutions to the dangerous/stressful situations are actually outside the “hole in the tunnel”. However, we cannot see them.

Is there anything we can do?

There is no magic solution to this problematic behaviour of the brain.

We can be aware of this behaviour/condition and make sure we plan every turn and every move in advance and in detail. This may help avoiding the stressful situations which put our vision in a tunnel vision mode.

We can also practice and train ourselves to use our peripheral vision by concentrating and being more aware of it. We may discover it can handle any movement on the road, even a number of movements at a time, and can ignore the unnecessary details which fills up the tunnel and prevent us from finding solutions to stressful situations.

Be safe. Enjoy the ride.