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'Motion Camouflage' is the result and explanation of why motorcycles / motorcyclists appear invisible to automobilists in certain circumstances.  Being seen is not just about wearing reflective gear, choosing blocking and high vis lane positions. Perhaps you’ve never been made aware of the dangers motion camouflage creates. It’s important for motorcycle riders to be aware of these issues not just from the point of view of not being seen by others but in relation to failing to see potential dangers ahead themselves.

What is Motion Camouflage?
Motion camouflage is a dynamic (dynamic-a force that stimulates change or progress within a system or process) type of camouflage by which an object (you the motorcyclist) can approach a target (auto) while appearing to remain stationary from the perspective- of the target. The way it works is while the approaching object remains on the same line of travel between the target and some landmark point- so it seems to stay near the landmark point from the target's perspective. The only visible evidence that the attacker is moving would be its angle and its “looming”- the change in size as the attacker approaches.

A moving object will draw the attention of a driver versus a stationary object. But if you're driving toward another driver you'll be out of sight and seemingly 'disappear' because you remain on the same spot their field of vision remains. This is known as “motion camouflage'- camouflage by movement.

Motion camouflage can disguise the movement of an approaching object. In the animal kingdom this phenomenon is used by predators to sneak up on prey.
Recently biologists confirmed dragonflies use it in their predatory flight paths. When hunting the dragonfly keeps on a line between a fixed point in the landscape and its prey. If the prey moves, the dragonfly moves with it, keeping the fixed point directly behind it al all times - effectively hiding it from the prey. This works because the outline of the dragonfly remains in the same place against its background, making it hard for the prey to detect its movement. At some point close to the prey, the dragonfly "looms" (see looming explained here) into view. But it’s too late for the prey.

This is why so many drivers pull out and then stop, frozen to the spot. It’s this sudden change in size which alerts the eye to the approaching object. Unfortunately for the motorcycle rider, the uncloaking effect of looming occurs when the moving object is very close to its target.


Although the red person depicted in this diagram moves in the background, the path used by the blue person has the feeling that the red person is stationary.

Motorcyclists can take advantage of this science as well to avoid being preyed upon by another driver.  There are a number of ways you can increase your visibility. By moving within your lane, make a lane change position, or change lanes and back again. This is really the same as affecting a light wobble, or move with light swerves around manhole covers or imaginary objects (we’ve always  suggested this as instructors to keep your push steering and emergency avoidance primed). Change position means fast from the left side to the right-hand side of the lane and vice versa. Lane changes will likely grab the attention of other drivers.

Another strategy to take is when approaching a vehicle instead of driving to meet it you'll adjust your direction of travel. This has two benefits. It will affect a larger angle toward the approaching vehicle to make sure you get your motorcycle better presented - more visible surface on the side of the motorcycle at the front, so there is more ground that the other driver can see it. This changes the direction of travel slightly from that of the approaching vehicle; crossing your field of vision or line of sight instead of riding when you're right of the vehicle.

See the following examples.

The green directional arrow is the better line of travel allowing for your higher visibility. The red directional arrow is the direction in which you were previously out-of-sight. As a general rule: if an approaching vehicle is to your left, you'll need to move from left to right. If an approaching vehicle is to your right-hand side, you'll need to move from right to left.


(1) In diagram 1 -  the best direction of the rider is achieved by moving from right to left of the lane.. The green line points further away from the yellow car where the red line points more towards it. The green line helps avoid motion camouflage and provides more profile of you and your motorcycle. You'll see that the green line ensures there is more room at the junction between the rider and the yellow vehicle.

(2) Diagram 2 shows a change of direction because the approaching vehicle is well on the left hand side. The green line points more away from the red car, the red line points more to the vehicle. You'll see that as a result of the intersection is also more space between the rider and the red vehicle’s location.

(3) In diagram 3 the direction of travel is the same as in diagram 2, because the green vehicle is on the left. The green path is selected here instead of the red line path in order to create more distance in relation to the green auto and more space at the intersection.

You'll be able to do the move in your direction of travel subtly, and sometimes will have no effect on avoiding motion camouflage as the driver may not be paying attention at all.
However, the best defence is being aware of the benefits and that the use of movement may be used to draw attention to yourself - you'll be able to achieve visibility in a positive way, within safe reason in addition to all other factors that increase your visibility.

It is further important motorcyclists skill to ensure you don’t encounter items camouflaged by motion. A way to ensure this is taught to you during your rider training course – scan. Keep your head and eyes moving.

Meet Duncan MacKillop
Duncan MacKillop the riding instructor who related motion camouflage to motorcycling and suggests that diverging from the direct line of sight will break the motion camouflage and get the observer's attention. For example:  a driver stopped at a cross-street on your right will be looking left at a slight angle to the path of the road. If you stay to the left of your lane, you will diverge from his line of sight, making yourself more noticeable. But if you're veering right (say, moving from the left to the right lane) you'll be moving along the crossing driver's line of sight, helping to hide your motion against the background. (See diagram #2) 

MacKillop the recommends: "I observed a smooth, gentle, single, zig-zag motion, at any point along the line, created a rapid edge movement against the background and destroyed the motion camouflage. Drivers' eyes snapped towards me and they froze the movement I swept left to right and back again."

There's a good example of how motion induced blindness working here provided by Prof. Michael Bach PhD, Ophthalmology, University of Freiburg, Germany, from his collection of Optical Illusions & Visual Phenomena.




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