Blue Streak Optical Phenomenon

An unusual phenomenon of peripheral vision might exist. It involves a momentary sensation of seeing a horizontal light blue line or streak.

This page is a request for feedback from anyone who has had similar experiences to the following, which I have experienced.

There is a momentary experience I have noticed several hundred times in my life. It is remarkably transitory, and sometimes it is uncertain whether the phenomenon actually happened or not!

I have only been aware of it happening is a single type of situation. When driving at highway speed along a two-lane road, one occasionally passes white or off-white colored cars traveling in the opposite direction. While continuously looking out the windshield, a very brief view of the passing car is naturally had through the driver's side window. Since the attention is concentrated forward, this momentary view is only in the extreme peripheral vision. The surprising phenomenon I sometimes have had is that the extremely brief view through the side window sometimes seems to appear where the passing car has a horizontal, wide, light blue stripe on its side!

I probably would never have noticed this at all, except that I have always had a certain level of paranoia regarding Police cars, and some Police cars happen to be painted with a horizontal stripe which is often blue. During long drives, it is natural to sometimes become mentally distracted. It has occasionally happened that I haven't noticed a Police car approaching from some direction, and its side's blue stripe would often be the first thing to catch my eye. When such a police car was passing in the opposite direction, a look in the rear view mirror would confirm that.

Sometimes, when I would perceive that sensation of an instantaneous blue streak in the side window, there was no confirmation of it being a Police car when I then look in the rear view mirror. As I indicated above, I drive a LOT, and this has occurred several hundred times.

I am convinced it is a real phenomenon. I supposed the possibility exists that it is some weird paranoid reaction regarding the possibility of it being a police car, but I don't think so. I have gotten remarkably few tickets in my life and it is hard to see why my brain would be creating imaginary police cars when it is clear that I am not doing anything wrong, and virtually haven't during my life. If there is some flaw in my optic system, that might also make it a phenomenon that is unique to myself. I have not been able to find any medical reference to such a phenomenon.

It is an EXTREMELY subtle sensation. Over the years, I have tried to analytically study these sensations. I have NEVER seen the effect related to ANY color car other than off-white or creme colored cars. My suspicion is that the phenomenon is so subtle that it would get "washed out" by any intense color or by a car with a combination of colors. I have never seen it on any vans or SUVs, but such vehicles are seldom plain white without extra colors or business logos or advertising on their sides. I have never seen it when cars pass ME (at any speeds) and never on any 4-lane or divided highway. It seems to me that the view must be of extreme short duration, otherwise the logical mind corrects the sensation to that of the actual appearance of the vehicle. Similarly, I have never seen this effect when passing opposing cars at speeds under 50 mph.

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When I have seen an oncoming creme-colored car approaching on a two-lane road, I have sometimes tried to turn my head to directly look at (face) the side window (to see if it was more than a peripheral vision perception), but I have never seen the effect. Similarly, when I would maintain my forward vision but attempt to concentrate my attention on that area of peripheral vision, I have again never seen the effect.

If anyone else have ever experienced this phenomenon, I'd appreciate hearing about it. It is such a subtle effect that I could easily believe that few people would have noticed it, even if it is a real phenomenon. If anyone is aware of any medical research that has been done on such a phenomenon, I'd appreciate that, too.

I don't know that there is any useful significance to this subject. It is certainly an interesting phenomenon, though!


This presentation was first placed on the Internet in March 1999.


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C Johnson, Theoretical Physicist, Physics Degree from Univ of Chicago