MSF’s many mistakes in its perception test

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

MSFs 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 cliché.)

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.

MSFs 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 photographer 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.

MSFs 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 the 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 unobscured 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…

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

13 Comments on “MSF’s many mistakes in its perception test”

  1. aidanspa Says:

    W- Great analysis and your commentary on the individual pics is spot on, IMO. This is exactly why I feel the exercises are pointless outside of a real-world environment. For those not as sophisticated or critical in their analysis of training curriculum, it could well prove to be dangerous if taken at face value.

    It would be interesting to see what good a group so intent on domination of the industry could accomplish if their standards were raised even a little bit.

    Turn off your brain, come sit a spell.

  2. Dave B Says:

    Dito aidanspa. Not much more to add. Since SEE is such a critical riding skill, there should be more emphasis on it in the BRC. Just showing those six Interactive Scenarios one right after another is a dis-service to the students. There’s a lot going on in those scenarios and time should be made to discuss the various possibilites. That’s why I like stopping each scenario and having a “learner-centered” discussion on each one. Not too long a discussion.

    You can get away with lazy scanning in a car. If you hit something or get hit, you have the insulation of the steel/fiberglass cage. As we all know, not so on a motorcycle. And we need to get this point across to the students. I like to use the term, “Quarterback Eyes” when covering the SEE concept. When a quarterback goes back to pass, what’s he doing with his eyes?….Reading the entire field.

  3. wmoon Says:

    I like your thinking Dave B as long as “the entire field” in the case of riding includes what’s to the sides and behind. I totally agree that the BRC does a total disservice to hazard awareness and street strategies. Apparently ARC has more–and while that’s good, it’s a) this MSF pathetic crap and b) unethical because it’s the newest riders who needs the most help. I’m glad you go above and beyond.

  4. Dave B Says:

    I tell my students they should constantly be scanning 7 areas; 12 seconds ahead, 4 seconds ahead, the ground in front for hazards, their left, their right and both mirrors. As a driver trainer for a school bus company, that’s how we train school bus drivers. It’s basically the Smith System of scanning.

    As far as the ARC, you & I both know that 90% of the people who take the BRC will never take another motorcycle safety course. We got to get through to them in the BRC. The BRC has to be taught more effectively than the newbies are trained to teach it.

    I hope that the ARC will attract more BRC graduates. But the problem is the ARC will only be taught in certain areas because of the range requirements, like Lee Parks’ Total Control courses.

  5. Dave Jenneke Says:

    Hi Wendy,
    Twice you mention the 88 feet per second at 35 mph. I think that distance/time refers to 60 mph. You might want to double check that. Good info as always. I saw that “Trap” test at the SMSA Conference. Was sorry you did not attend, or at least I didn’t think you did.

  6. wmoon Says:

    Dave, I ran the figures through a speed/time conversion ap on the Internet. That’s the answer it gave.

  7. Rob Says:

    Monster is correct re: the distance traveled.

  8. Bill Says:

    Test from the link does not contain the slides you talk about.
    Has it been changed?

  9. wmoon Says:

    Bill, I don’t know–there’s many slides and they’re chosen randomly (apparently) so you may have to take it many times to see all the slides I discussed. I have no idea if any have been pulled (though it would be nice if they were).

  10. Bill Says:

    Okay, slides do rotate. As I was looking for the ones you commented on, a different one struck me as strange. Look at the one in Vegas, you (rider) in middle lane of three lanes and Datsun Z directly in front of you.
    In their correct answer explanation, do you agree that “there is no ______ ______ ” ?

    11 second slide still in rotation.

  11. wmoon Says:

    I’m not sure what the slide is you’re referring to or what the correct explanation is so I don’t know if I’d agree. Why don’t you tell us about it…

  12. Bill Says:

    You are in the middle lane of three visible lanes of traffic moving in one direction. Sign for Mirage and part of Treasure Island hotel visible in the distance.
    Left lane, a maroon Buick about 20 yards ahead. A white car ahead of that and a bus further ahead with brake lights on.
    In front of you an old 280ZX 15 yards ahead. Silver car 10 yards ahead of it with brake lights on.
    Right lane, Hummer about 45 yards ahead with a car moving in behind it from the middle lane ahead.
    You can: change lanes right, change lanes left, stay in middle lane.

    c. Is the correct answer. There is no immediate hazard. Assuming you are traveling straight ahead for some distance, the middle lane is best to move easily with the traffic flow and to avoid factors from the right and left lanes. You may want to adjust your position within the middle lane often to see and be seen more readily by others.

    The car braking in front of the 280ZX will cause the 280ZX to also brake VERY soon. IMHO that is an immediate hazard and will require you to brake within a second or two. My answer is to move to the right lane to “create more time and space”.

    Also saw the “merge in a few seconds” slide, and think the motorcycle is in the middle of changing into your lane.

  13. wmoon Says:

    I vaguely recall that slide now you’ve given me that great description. I would agree with your analysis. I also tend to think the middle lane is almost never the lowest risk choice in urban/suburban arterial roads. Imo, there’s just too great a chance that someone is going to change lanes suddenly with little to no checking for other vehicles–and particularly motorcycles. I also agree that in the other slide the motorcycle is most likely coming into the rider’s lane.

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