By September 25, 2006

Finding SOLAS

The Gestalt Theory, developed in the 1930s and 1940s by psychologists, attempts to explain how humans process visual information. The laws of the Gestalt Theory are presented below, and shamelessly ripped from Wikipedia:

  • Proximity – the objects closest together are more likely to form a group.
  • Similarity – objects similar in size or shape are more likely to form a group.
  • Closure – our brains add missing components to complete a larger pattern.
  • Symmetry – symmetrical items are more likely to group together.
  • Common fate – items moving in the same direction are more likely to group together.
  • Continuity – once a pattern is formed, it is more likely to continue even if the elements are redistributed.

The Gestalt Theory laws distill nicely for motorcyclists: cagers (car drivers) are going to perceive objects of similar size and shape sooner than an object of smaller and non-standard size. A motorcycle’s slimmer profile puts us at a disadvantage in a sea of cars. Cars turn in front of motorcyclists quite often; it’s the number one situation where motorcycles crash with cars. Another common situation is being rear-ended at a stop light.

Automotorists are used to looking out for other cars and pedestrians. Lots of car drivers play into the Gestalt Theory of similarity and symmetry that work against a motorcyclist. Instead of noticing the “odd man out,” most drivers tend to see other cars first, and motorcycles second. It’s very easy for a motorcycle to slip into a car’s blind spot. Motorcyclists are taught to avoid the blind spot, but dense traffic strongly coerces a motorcyclist to get into places they shouldn’t be. Combine thick traffic and a hurried or distracted driver and you have a car vs. motorcycle accident waiting to happen. Things are even worse at night.

Conspicuity gear is a motorcyclist’s passive defense against driver laziness and typical human psychology. Coupled with an active defense of situational awareness, knowledge of crash statistics and driver behavior, it’s the best we can do in adverse riding conditions. I already wear a reflective vest made by ICON. The rest of my gear is black (with the exception of my helmet). With the recent addition of GIVI hard luggage, my bike took on even more black equipment. The side cases are solid black plastic. The tiny red reflector on the bottom of the license plate bracket is lost between the side cases and my silver and black top case.

I installed a rear brake light to the top case (more on that in another entry). This is helpful, but the lights are only active when I’m braking. I decided to put some conspicuity reflective tape on the back of the saddlebags. After doing some research, I chose 3M’s SOLAS-grade adhesive tape. SOLAS stands for “Safety of Life at Sea,” and is a collection of international procedures, policies, and equipment standards for keeping people safe on the water.

3M’s 3150A SOLAS tape is made to endure the harsh conditions of the sea. It is much more reflective than any other conspicuity tape, and is flexible enough to be attached to life jackets or wrapped around buoys. The SOLAS tape looks whitish-gray under normal lighting conditions. Hit the SOLAS tape with light at night, however, and there is some serious reflectivity going on:

Notice that the red reflectors on the topcase are hardly reflecting any light in comparison.

There isn’t anything I can do to change how people perceive objects, and relying on an automotorist to use their mirrors and be sensitive to motorcyclists is a gamble. The best thing I can do is be aware at all times, and stick flashing/shiny things on my bike. The 3M SOLAS tape is an easy, inexpensive way to help others see me at night.

SOLAS tape is mostly sold for larger-scale applications, like … uh, BOATS, but I was able to buy two 18″ strips on eBay for $6 with shipping. My other alternative was to buy 10′ at a minimum for about $30.

Posted in: motorcycling, review

2 Comments on "Finding SOLAS"

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  1. Wy says:

    Great idea. How about putting it in a fairly wierd pattern, that should draw enough attention to let people know you’re there.

    Actually, SOLAS Tape is often found on PFDs as well, btw.

  2. Ed says:

    And don’t forget the most dangerous part for motorcyclists. The game Spyhunter taught us all that it is funny when the motorcycle is hit.