Perceiving the problems in rider training

MSF’s online “Rider Perception” Test

There’s two tests up: a sign recognition test and “collision traps” test. “The Road Sign tests help you identify common road signs,” the site says. I guess that depends on what you mean by “common” as there are uncommon signs such as roundabouts, a white railroad crossing sign without the words railroad crossing. The signs also appear without any context at all—they are flashed on a blue screen without any of the environmental cues that accompany them in real life.

The sign recognition test flashes a road sign on the screen and gives you three choices of what it can mean. For example, a No Right Turn sign gives you the options of: a. No Right Turn; b. Right Turn Only; and c. No Left Turn. The Telephone sign gives the options: Use of Telephone in Vehicle Allowed; b. Telephone Static Expected; c. Telephone Access. The Side Road intersects main road sign gives the options: a, Side Road Ahead; b. Traffic Signal Ahead; c. Lane Added Ahead.  Iow, it’s written by the same people that produced the BRC classroom test giving a clearly right, clearly wrong and absolutely stupid answer in almost all cases. On occasion though the wording is tricksey—so it’s a good idea to look through the sign glossary to see what MSF calls certain signs. Even so,

You can choose your speed for each test and each attempt—slow, medium and fast which only applies to how fast the sign appears and disappears and not the multiple choices. The difference in speeds is fractional—even the slowest is far less than a second.

The signs also appear in various places on the screen from the right side of the screen to the left.

It isn’t the only road sign test available on the Internet. For example, the US Traffic and Road Sign test: tests 30 signs in just Part 1. Each sign is worth only one point and the signs remain visible. The question I want to ask you all—does the signs appearing and disappearing in milliseconds have a true safety value? Do we really only see signs for such a short time?

The second question I want to get feedback on: why a road sign test? Is it really an issue that people don’t understand them—or that they don’t pull them out of the environmental context—i.e., miss the speed limit sign or the lane closed ahead given all the other competing visual information?

And, finally, in what ways are traffic and road signs different for  motorcyclist rather than a cager? After all, most students have been obeying or not obeying the exact same signs for years. So in what way is a sign recognition test a useful addition to motorcycle safety?

The “Collision Traps” test uses photos taken around SoCal (Something I found distracting because I was trying to figure out where they were taken rather than paying attention to the situation shown, but that’s just homesick me). Having real photos is good as the information is in context unlike the road sign test.

The photo appears for 4 seconds for the “slow option”, 3 seconds for the medium and 2 seconds for the fast. Accident causation studies have found that four seconds is the minimum time for what’s needed to comprehend and respond in time. However, all this requires is seeing and interpreting and not making a decision nor executing.

Unlike reality, the issue you are to address and possible answers only appear after the photo disappears—iow, unlike reality, you’re dealing with what is retained in working memory. Only then are you told what you were supposed to have seen and now have to recall and choices are given.

I have my own thoughts on this test in particular—and I would be very much interested in hearing what readers thought of this second one in particular.

Explore posts in the same categories: Instructors, Motorcycle Awareness, Motorcycle Safety, Motorcycle Safety Foundation, Motorcycle Training, Uncategorized

17 Comments on “Perceiving the problems in rider training”

  1. Dave B Says:

    Went through the test a few weeks ago. The answer to your first question, pertaining to the first test, might be that they want you to start looking for road signs when you drive/ride. Will help you to develop your scanning skills. You & I know that people just stare when they drive. Numerous studies have indicated that. Unfortunately, nowadays people are texting or using their cell phone when driving. And it’s going to get worse when more text/cell phone conscious teenagers start driving. I’m thinking about mounting a rocket launcher on my windshield.

    Was disappointed with the 2nd test. I believe the MAIDS study indicated that good scanning/
    SIPDE/SEE/SPA skills is probably the best technique/skill for avoiding accidents. The way the BRC was designed, we really don’t get heavily into that skill unless you stop each interactive scene and throughly go into each one with the students. I liked the RSS video on scanning much better. It really shows you how to move your eyes and spot hazards and potential hazards. I think that the RSS video combined with the BRC interactive scenario video would get the point across much better and help the students develop this very important skill/technique.

    The vision we use to watch these video clips is much different than the vision we use when driving/riding. And our attention is different when we watch a video clips vs. driving/riding.

  2. wmoon Says:

    Based on studies of both learning/retention and scanning and hazard awareness, since the sign test is totally out-of-context (the signs are not in an environmental context) nor are there any normative distractors and it lasts a very short time, I doubt very much if this has any effect or transfer of skill to a traffic environment.

    I agree with your other points. Please go further here: I’m wondering what you think of the answers MSF says are correct–and the commentary on those answers.

  3. If your characterization of the three questions (clearly right, clearly wrong, and absolutely stupid) is correct, then one would have to try hard to get less than 100% on any test constructed that way.

    If only one of those characterizations is correct, then you would have to try hard to get less than a 50% score unless it was the ‘clearly right’ answer, in which case you would have to try VERY hard to get less than 100%.

    If only two of those characterizations is correct, again you would have to try hard to get less than 100%.

    As to collision traps … low value, in my opinion, without discussion of each. Worse, a motorcycle class should focus on threats unique to motorcycles. Edge traps, grass clipping and leaves in a curve, 35 mph speed advisory signs, visibility issues with sun low and at your back, etc.

  4. Jeff Brenton Says:

    My problem with the collision traps test is the same now as it was when I first saw it a year ago… No “dynamic” context. A static scene does not allow you to gauge whether the person standing at the corner is “antsy” to cross or just having a smoke, for example.

    Maybe my problem is that I’ve spent so many years “looking ahead” to get a grip on what’s taking place that I need the “developing scene” to find the hazards. But, I did find that, if one of the answers includes the words “turn left”, it’s the correct one in this test… 😉

  5. vstromer Says:

    I got “Propane Fuel Ahead” correct. That will surely help me on my next ride!

    I don’t see the relevence to motorcycling, other than being able to recognize signs quickly. If one is looking ahead and scanning for signage, along with everything else, one shouldn’t be surprised by a sign or have to react to a sign in a split second.

    Regarding one of your questions, there is a difference to how I react to certain signs based on what I’m riding or driving. Example – on my sidecar rig I always slow down to the speed posted on the “curve ahead” sign.

  6. wmoon Says:

    VStromer, do you think motorcyclists have to react more quickly to signs–or have less ability to see and recognize them quickly so they need more practice than cagers do?

  7. vstromer Says:

    It never occurred to me that motorcyclists have to react more quickly to signs than do cagers, or need more practice at recognizing signs. Scanning 12 (or more) seconds ahead should make the issue a non-problem, rider or driver. But, I’ve sure seen a lot of cagers who, for example, apparently surprised, exit the freeway at the last minute, crossing multiple lanes of traffic to do so. Failure to notice the exit – just one symptom of distracted driving?

  8. wmoon Says:

    I agree VStromer that motorcyclist are no more impaired at seeing and recognizing road signs. Being from LA, people crossing lanes of traffic to make an exit is all too familiar. Sigh. I’d agree it’s distracted driving that’s the cause. But given that–then why does MSF create a signage test that has no relation to the safe motorcycle operation task?

  9. Dean W Says:

    It was a couple weeks ago, but when I ran through collision traps, it seems like a couple of the “correct” questions were speed limit signs- partially blocked or in a cloud of other signs or whatever.


    Running through it, I’ve got a scene where the right lane is exit only, there’s a vehicle ahead merging in, lots of traffic to the left, and the question is “What’s the speed limit?”

    Just didn’t strike me as important compared to other elements, but that’s me, I guess.

  10. Mark Weiss Says:

    The key to understanding the purpose of the perception tests is contained in the first and last sentences of the introductory paragraph. The focal point of the tests is rapid, accurate, perception. Developing awareness of personal limitations is also a goal. These points are also addressed in the “Perception Facts” screens.

    I do not think that the tests are very well explained on the website. Both presentations are components of the MSRC/ARC.

    Mark Weiss
    in AZ

  11. wmoon Says:

    Mark, I agree that they’re not well explained on the website–but I’m also unconvinced that the sign test, in particular, is worth anything at all without being in a traffic context. They might as well have put up pictures of snacks–was it a Twinkie, a bag of Doritos, etc. Nor did they do anything with it afterward–like asking questions–what was harder to identify; what speed was easiest, hardest; what tricks did you do to help you improve, etc. It’s like the BRC version of quick perception.

    That there is a problem with perception is granted–but both tests are lacking in many troubling ways. It is, imo, just another example of the careless slapdash approach MSF takes–do anything and throw it up there as if it’s good and then say it’s good because we’re MSF.

  12. aidanspa Says:

    The sign recognition test has zero value IMHO. They may as well have flashed silhouettes of famous American statesmen for all the good recognizing sign shapes will do a rider. I agree that the proper question to be asked is what percentage of rider crashes are the result of not recognizing signage?

    The Collision Traps test has no value as a learning tool outside of a real-world environment. I would feel the same way if it were part of a riding simulator.

    The only value I see in these tests is as PR tools for MSF. Additionally, they may influence test-takers to at least be conscious of the need to use SIPDE/SEE in the real world, much as the completion of MSF BRC may influence riders to be conscious of the need for real-world motorcycle safety training.

  13. Mark Weiss Says:

    Wendy, I agree that the website’s presentation does not make use of the tests’ actual value. When used in the ARC, there is lead in, discussion, and follow up.

    The only reason that roadsigns are used is that they are very easily identified objects. One point of the test is to note how much of your concentration is being taken up by such a simple task. Follow up is to ask, “How would you be affected in traffic?” (as you suggest). “With this knowledge, what do you need to adjust?”

    The tests are valuable tools, but of minimal effect when taken out of context.


  14. wmoon Says:

    What do you think of the other one–the collision trap test? Do you agree that the “correct” answer is indeed the primary hazard in each case?

  15. Mark Weiss Says:


    That does not have a simple answer. For one, about 25% of the slides do not ask for a primary hazard, but ask for other observations such as speed limits and roadway changes.

    Even for the hazard identification scenarios, there is a fair amount of subjectivity that will affect our individual views of the scenes. It is a shortcoming of this type of presentation that individual differences cannot be investigated. Keeping that in mind, if I recall correctly, the ‘right answer’ for the hazard situations were determined by rating both frequency (likelihood) and criticality of the problem that is presented, somewhat similar to the system use the the ‘Motorcycle Task Analysis’. In some situations, the hazard that is the most immediate, and is likely to be identified as ‘primary’ may not be the most critical.

    Here is an example. In one of the scenes you are put in the middle lane. Just ahead there is a vehicle to your right. You might be hard to see and the driver could easily make a quick lane change, a common occurrence. Several lengths ahead, and maybe a lane to the left, is a pickup truck with a loaded bed. Even if your road speed is 35 to 45 mph, there’s room and the truck appears a less immediate hazard. My first response to this image was that the vehicle to the right was the primary issue. The test said that I was wrong.

    Upon further consideration, the test is more correct. If the vehicle to my right began to move over, based on what’s shown, it would be easily avoided. However, if something were to fall out of the truck bed, it could quickly create chaos in traffic and might leave me with no way out. While I need to remain aware of the position and movement of the vehicle to my right. I really should be devoting more brain power to providing myself with an escape route and adequate space to be prepared for a truck-related incident.

    Frequency and criticality must be taken into account. While the lane change is likely to occur, there are easy solutions that keep that possibility low on the critical issues list. The truck’s cargo is not very likely to become dislodged (can’t tell if it’s loose by looking at a still-fame), but if something does go wrong, it will be big problem and therefore ends up with a very high risk level.

    The point here, which is not explained on the website, is that riders need to not only spot the hazards and gather information, they also have to assess threat levels and adjust appropriately. These ideas are part of the ARC classroom. In fact, on page 22 of the ARC RCG the RC notes state, “It is important that the ‘one right answer’ or the ‘best answer’ not become the focus of the review…

    The MSF website presentation of the tests leaves room for improvement.

    Mark Weiss
    in Arizona

  16. wmoon Says:

    Yes, I totally agree with your assessment–and had similar problems with what is presented–and what isn’t. What disturbs me equally much is that if you choose “wrong” MSF doesn’t explain why it wasn’t right–and that, to me, is a lost learning opportunity.

  17. Mark Weiss Says:

    I agree with you. Maybe MSF will take note and develop the media as a stand-alone module. It will be much better use of the resource.

    Mark Weiss

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