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 Wendy Moon Archive
 2009 Blog posts
 09-03-MSF's many mistakes in its perception test
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Female Junior Member
26 Posts

St. Louis, MO


VFR 750F
Peer Review: Blocked

Posted - 02/27/2011 :  6:19 PM                       Like
Now that I've given readers time to take MSF's perception tests, there's a few observations I'd like to make. It's nice that MSF realized there was a problem with perception and attempted to do something about it-but there's a few observations to make-so I'll use a few of the pictures and responses MSF makes to do so:

The Picture: A traffic signals are ahead of the photographer. A car is on the right but it's not clear if it's planning to go straight through the intersection or planning to turn right or left. The traffic signal on the pole to the right has the pedestrian crossing signal with a countdown-the white lit walking figure has already disappeared and the orange hand is visible and below that the countdown shows 11 seconds.

The statement:

The traffic light will remain green at least:

a. 7 more seconds

b. 11 seconds

c. 17 seconds

MSF's answer: b. Is the correct answer. Lots going on here, but perhaps you caught the countdown sign below the right traffic light. It's letting pedestrians know how much time they have left to cross, but it also lets you know that time is remaining before the light changes.


I have used the pedestrian countdown many a time-but only if there's nothing else going on around me. In this case, I'd be paying far more attention to whether that white car would suddenly turn out in front of me. And the pedestrian countdown is not universal-in some places the orange hand just flashes and some don't have it at all. So I'm not sure why MSF thought this was so important as to include in what's called a "Collision Traps" test.

But, apart from that, what MSF says is correct is inaccurate: In fact, a. is also correct: If the light will remain green for 11 seconds it will first remain green for "at least" 7 seconds. In fact, a. is even more correct since the light will remain green more than 7 seconds and thus "at least" but in 11 seconds the light will turn yellow and be green no longer-and therefore not meeting the definition of "at least".

Maybe that's being too picky-but it's MSF who claims the answers it chooses are "correct" and correct, as MSF uses it means right, accurate, without error. And if there's a "correct" then there's an incorrect-that there's a red "X" next to your choice confirms the idea there's a right and a wrong and MSF's answer is the right one ("Correct. Good Job!"-that last is such an MSF cliche.)

MSF also makes an implied claim on the main page of its perception tests that taking the tests it provides will make a rider safer on the road precisely by "trying until you consistently earn a perfect score of 20 out of 20 points."

So what MSF puts on the page-a page that can be accessed globally-matters even when it comes to small inaccuracies such as "at least" because people are told there is a correct answer-and the implication is that they will be safer riders.

So let's look at a just a couple pictures-and these aren't the worst by far:

The Picture: A rider ahead of the photographer is in the middle lane of a three-lane freeway. The photographer is in the right lane. There's an exit only lane ahead on the right and an entrance lane that has already joined the freeway on the right. A white van is in the right lane. There is no car visible entering the freeway-not even a shadow of a car.

The Statement:

In a few seconds ahead you will be:

a. Stopping at a red light

b. Merging

c. Changing lanes left.

MSF's answer: b. Is the correct answer. There is a lane on the right that indicates vehicles may be merging with you ahead. Be sure to leave a gap both in front and behind you so a driver will be able to choose a safe gap to merge.

There's many things wrong with this picture:

Merging is what the entering vehicle does-so the photographer wouldn't be merging at all. If there was a vehicle entering the freeway, the photographer would have to deal with the merging vehicle, which is what, I presume, MSF meant. However, "in a few seconds" you'll be at least 300 feet down the road and long past any merging point. Is this, once again, just sloppy writing-"merging" and "in a few seconds"? No-there's more:

In fact, there is nothing in the entrance lane to indicates that "you" will be dealing with an entering vehicle in "a few seconds"-unless, of course, that road sign casting a shadow on the entrance ramp is planning to zoom on the freeway.

While it's true that merging traffic is a hazard, this picture doesn't show it. In the absence of any indication of a vehicle entering the freeway, it's at best, merely cautionary in the abstract.

In fact, the greatest potential hazard in the photograph is the motorcyclist ahead in the next lane. Since there is an exit coming up on the right, the rider could pull over into the photographer's lane intending to move to the exit. But rather than deal with an actual potential risk, MSF goes for the absent threat and calls that correct.

The Picture: It's a three-lane major arterial street with red lights ahead, a white SUV is attempting to merge into the middle lane from a left entrance. A white locksmith van has its brake lights on directly ahead of the photographer in the middle lane. Interestingly, another photo shows the same locksmith van doing the same maneuver as the SUV-pulling across more than one lane to force its way into another. There is no traffic in the right lane or beside the photographer.

You are asked:

A good plan to execute here is:

a. Change lanes to the left

b. Increase your following distance.

c. Actuate your brake lights.

MSF's answer: c. Is the correct answer. The SUV pulling out from the left is causing the van in front of you to slow. This is a good time to let people behind know there's a potential conflict ahead. And if there is traffic directly behind you, be alert for them to change lanes to pass by you.

First of all, MSF teaches the 2 second following rule, however, in most of the pictures, it appears that the photographer is far closer than 2 seconds at the various speeds the kind of roads would indicate-as is the case in previous picture and this one. So, if the photographer was using the 2 second following rule, s/he would've traveled between 88 feet (if going 30 mph) to 102 feet (if traveling 35 mph-which is a typical speed limit for that kind of street in the LA area).

Then there's the red light ahead-and the photographer's view of traffic in his/her lane is obscured by the locksmith van. For all we know, traffic is backed up to the van and it's coming to a complete stop.

So it's really bizarre that MSF tells you that it's a good time to let people behind you know by actuating your brake lights? Friend, you better be on those brakes so you don't rear-end the van. Answer b is by far the safest action.

But even answer a would give you at least one more van length to come to a stop (and the SUV might have finished crossing) rather than risk hitting the van. At any rate, imo, a rider should always avoid having the view forward blocked by a larger vehicle.

And even though the right lane appeared to be clear for many car lengths, it was not a choice MSF gave-even though it could be the absolute safest (as it allows the rider not only an unobstructed forward vision but allows an escape route to the shoulder-that is if there's no one beside the photographer or coming up in that lane.

Full Frontal

But as in the last picture, there's simply not enough information to know what the best and safest thing to do is because-as in all of the photos, all the viewer can see is what's in front of the photographer. Essential information is lost because what's behind the rider is not known and often what's to both sides of the rider isn't either.

For example, in one of the photos taken along Vegas' Strip, a white SUV is pulling out in front of the photographer from what appears to be a parking lot. There's a great deal of the sidewalk and area the SUV is pulling out of but none to the immediate left of the rider.

MSF asks what the rider should do and gives the choices as: a. slow. B. Change lanes to the left. C. Use your horn. The "correct" answer, according to MSF is to change lanes to the left: "Slowing is a good idea, but a better choice would be to move to the left lane and avoid other traffic that wants to turn into your lane. Using your horn wouldn't have much value."

It's true that using the horn would be useless, but since we can't see to the rider's left, it's anyone's guess that the safest thing to do would be to move left. And MSF doesn't say to check and see if you can move left before you do.

But even if they had-and someone took MSF's assertion that this is the correct thing to do, consider this: The SUV appears to be less than 90 feet away from the photographer (and in most of the photos, it doesn't appear that the photographer is using a 2 second following rule).

According to brain science research it would take about 1.5 seconds to see the SUV, interpret what it's going to do, decide what you're going to do and then do a shoulder check, interpret and decide on that information. Only then would the rider be starting to move over. In that time, the rider would be 66 feet closer to the SUV if s/he was going 30 mph-and only then realize they couldn't move over-just before they smashed into the SUV. Otoh, in the same length of time and distance, s/he could have slowed to a stop if necessary.

Iow, MSF's advice-since it doesn't include essential information to the side and rear-could cause a collision rather than save a rider from it. And that's true for many of the photos. More importantly is that MSF's repeated ignoring of what's going on to the sides and rear of the photographer conveys the message that only what's in front of the motorcyclist is important.

This, then is a subtle but insidious and dangerous aspects of the Collision Trap Test-while the majority of fatalities are frontal collisions, safe avoidance of those collisions very often depends on what's directly to the sides of us and behind us.

Other very strange things include a strong focus on what the speed limit is-including one on the freeway (65 mph). If the photographer was going freeway speed, the "Collision Trap" would be the multi-lane brake check ahead that requires immediate action. Yet MSF uses this photo to say, well, the speed limit sign isn't important here but it's still good to know what the limit is supposed to be.

In fact, this is a case where, if the rider was going 65 mph, should be getting on the brakes instead of noticing the speed limit.

There's an enormous amount of errors and foolishness in the commentary beyond these: in one the commentator says the rider isn't "quite" in the no-zone. On the contrary, the rider is well inside it. In one case where the photographer is in a straight road heading over a blind crest with a corner beyond, MSF says the correct thing is to stay left for sight lines. Not in this case since the rider could not tell if an on-coming driver was over the double yellow.

I myself haven't run into anything but the most basic of all kinds of corners-yet going out of control on a bend is one of the most common causes of collisions.

I don't know who chose the pictures (or told the photo what kind of pictures to take), I don't know who decided what was the danger or the "correct" action, but the inaccuracies and poor choices that MSF claim are "correct" are truly representative of the inferiority of MSF's basic rider training curriculum, the Basic Rider Training course.

If this is a sample of the kind of advice instructors are telling students is "correct", no wonder so many new riders are dying on the roads.

What I want to know is why in hell MSF didn't beg new AMA Hall of Fame member David Hough to create this perception test for them
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