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What is Target Fixation?

2 minute read

If you’ve ever watched a race where a rider veers off track only to be followed by the rider behind them; or if you’ve ever noticed your car unintentionally shift in the direction of your gaze – you’ve witnessed, or fallen victim to, target fixation.

Target fixation is described as an attentional phenomenon that occurs when someone becomes so fixated on a distraction that they are trying to avoid, that they inadvertently increase their risk of collision with it.

While any vehicle operator can experience this, those in control of high-speed vehicles (motorcyclists, race-car drivers, fighter pilots and the like) are most at risk of crashing from target fixation – particularly in stressful situations.

Components of the fatal five such as speeding, intoxication and fatigue, as well as collisions with other motorists are often noted as the cause of numerous motorcycle fatalities on the road. However, with approximately 49% of all motorcycle vehicle collisions involving only one rider and their bike, could target fixation be one of the bigger issues at play?

Despite the statistics, the good news is that target fixation can be addressed through training and education.

Take, for instance, police officers who may become involved in a high-speed chase. While weaving in and out of traffic while following another driver could be deadly for a novice driver, the chances of police officers crashing in cases like this are mitigated by regular training in stressful and high-speed conditions.

For the everyday motorcyclist, knowing about target fixation is the first step in actively avoiding it.

For those who can access a motocross track, training yourself to avoid hyperfixation on a single object is another way to overcome the issue before it becomes a fatal habit. Such education and practice not only prepares riders for future scenarios where hazards may arise but allows them to recognise when target fixation occurs and how to snap out of it.

Ultimately, a key factor in addressing target fixation is visual skill and awareness. By altering the way a rider pays attention on the road and detects potential hazards, loss of visual awareness and consequential panic steering can be avoided.

For riders and drivers this means:

  • Focusing on the path you need to travel on rather than directly at a hazard
  • Using your peripheral vision to take in the bulk of your surroundings
  • Knowing your own position relative to other drivers/riders on the road
  • Constantly scanning the environment for potential hazards
  • Looking down the road or distance you will be travelling

Have you ever experienced target fixation? What did you do?

To find out more about our programs click HERE.

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