What is Target Fixation?

The open-air, open-road experience of a motorcycle ride is an incomparable thrill. Motorcycles are also a gas-friendly means of transportation for those who regularly ride to work and school. Unfortunately, the same unenclosed, unencumbered design that makes a motorcycle ride so exhilarating also leaves riders vulnerable to severe injuries in a crash. Despite making up only about three percent of all registered vehicles, motorcycle accidents account for 14% of traffic fatalities in the United States. One often misunderstood cause of motorcycle accidents is target fixation.

Understanding Target Fixation and Motorcycle Accidents

The phenomenon of target fixation was first identified in WW2 fighter pilots who sometimes became so fixated on their targets that they inadvertently flew their aircraft directly into their target. Accident reconstruction experts also observe the occurrence of target-fixation accidents in racecar drivers, paragliders, and motorcyclists. Researchers believe target fixation accidents may be especially common for motorcyclists because riders use their body weight and leaning motions to help steer and balance their motorcycles. Target fixation accidents in motorcycles occur when a rider becomes so fixated on a target ahead that they unconsciously steer into the direction of their gaze, sometimes resulting in a collision or an accident caused by last-moment attempts to avoid a car collision.

Common Examples of Motorcycle Accidents Caused by Target Fixation

Examples of Target Fixation in Motorcyclists

Some common examples of motorcycle accidents caused by target fixation include the following:

  • A motorcyclist follows a friend on a motorcycle traveling in front of him. Instead of maintaining his individual perspective of his surroundings, he’s lulled into fixating on the bike in front of him and fails to notice when his friend in front slows down due to an obstacle in the road ahead, resulting in a rear-end collision
  • A rider on a multi-lane highway notices an accident in a lane going the other direction. Out of curiosity, she focuses on the scene in the other lane, failing to realize that her body leans in that direction and she steers slightly toward the focus of her attention and out of her lane, sideswiping a car traveling in the next lane
  • While riding through a foggy morning, a motorcyclist focuses on the taillights of the car in front of him so intently that he inadvertently drives into the rear of the car as it slows for a stop sign.
  • A motorcyclist realizes he’s taken a turn at too high a speed, sending his bike to the far side of his road. Fearing that he’ll hit a tree he sees close to the roadside ahead, he fixates on the tree in a panic and accidentally drives right into the tree despite having time to avoid it

These are all examples of actual accidents that have occurred to motorcycle riders due to the phenomenon of target fixation.

Though most common in motorcycle accidents, car drivers also fall victim to target fixation. For this reason, some drivers actually collide with police officers who’ve pulled other drivers over to the shoulder of the road to issue traffic citations. This all-too-common phenomenon has resulted in many states, such as Missouri, enacting laws compelling drivers to move over one lane when approaching vehicles stopped on the side of the road for traffic citations, accidents, or breakdowns.

Avoiding Target Fixation

The best way to avoid target fixation while driving a car or motorcycle is to be aware of this phenomenon. Instead of looking intently at any object in front of you or on the roadside, focus on the road ahead in the direction you intend to travel and remain vigilantly aware of your surroundings. Move over a lane whenever there are vehicles on the shoulder of the road and keep your eyes on your own pathway while actively scanning the roadway ahead. If you have suffered injuries from a target fixation accident, contact a St. Louis motorcycle accident attorney to learn about your legal rights.