How do you view cyclists?

An Australian study has found more than half of motorists don’t view cyclists as human.

A study into the attitudes of motorists towards cyclists has found more than half of all drivers don’t view cyclists as completely human. 

The research, Dehumanization of cyclists predicts self-reported aggressive behaviour toward them: A pilot study, found that deliberate acts of aggression towards cyclists was, in part, caused by motorists dehumanising them.

The research into dehumanisation – which is usually reserved for studies in relation to negative attitudes and behaviours towards racial or ethnic groups – was conducted by Monash University, QUT’s Centre for Accident Research & Road Safety – Queensland (CARRS-Q) and the University of Melbourne’s School of Psychological Sciences.

Participants in the study were given scales showing the evolution of ape to man, or the evolution of cockroach to human. 

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Lead author Dr Alexa Delbosc said the insect-human scale was designed for the study because of the many informal comments made by participants comparing cyclists to “cockroaches” or “mosquitoes”. 

On both the ape-human and insect-human scales, 55 percent of non-cyclists and 30 percent of cyclists rated cyclists as not completely human.

Participants also admitted to deliberate acts of aggression, with 17 percent having used their car to deliberately block a cyclist, 11 percent deliberately driving their car close to a cyclist and nine percent had used their car to cut off a cyclist. 

“When you don’t think someone is ‘fully’ human, it’s easier to justify hatred or aggression towards them,” Dr Delbosc said.

“If cyclists feel dehumanised by other road users, they may be more likely to act out against motorists, feeding into a self-fulfilling prophecy that further fuels dehumanisation against them.

“Ultimately we want to understand this process so we can do a better job at putting a human face to people who ride bikes, so that hopefully we can help put a stop to the abuse.”

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Co-author of the paper, CARRS-Q Centre Director Professor Narelle Haworth, said the study revealed the problem of dehumanisation on the roads was not just a case of motorist versus cyclist.

“We weren’t surprised that motorists who didn’t ride themselves put cyclists as less than human,” she said. 

“But we were surprised that 30 percent of motorists who also ride bikes said the average cyclist wasn’t completely human.

“If you think of another group as not fully human, you’re not likely to treat them with the same degree of respect and are more likely to be aggressive towards them.”

Prof. Haworth said the problem was so extreme that cyclists had taken matters into their own hands and many organisations avoided using the word ‘cyclist’ due to its negative connotations. 

“Last year, I saw a cyclist and on the back of his jersey it said, ‘I am someone’s dad’,” she said. 

“That simple act takes away the dehumanisation aspect and shows that I am like you and, if you hit me, it will impact my family.

“When I speak to organisations like the Brisbane City Council, they always try to say, ‘bike rider’ as it can denote anyone – a young child, a mother – and not just the Lycra-clad male many associate with cyclists.”

Bicycle Queensland CEO Anne Savage said it was deeply concerning that more than half of the motorists surveyed did not view cyclists as completely human. 

“This study confirms the types of behaviours we see every day on Queensland’s roads,” she said. 

“Last year, 247 Queenslanders died on our roads. 

“They were our mothers, fathers, football coaches, teachers and members of the cycling community.

“The number injured and seriously hurt is equally unacceptable – for every single fatality, over 24 people are hospitalised because of road crashes.

“Whether it’s cutting someone off or giving them the finger – you can cost a person their life and shatter the dreams of their friends and family members.”

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RACQ Manager Motoring Advice Joel Tucker said both motorists and cyclists are afforded equal rights on the road. 

“Under the road rules, bicycle riders and motor vehicle drivers have basically the same rules they must follow and everyone must share the road safely” he said.

Mr Tucker said people needed to realise that the road system was developed with people in mind, not specific modes of transport. 

“Roads were built for people – whatever mode of transport people choose to use to get from A to B,” he said.

“It’s about the person on the bike, the person in the car and remembering the other person has family and friends and is out there doing the same as you – trying to get around safely.

“We all have jobs to do, friends to see or kids to pick up from school and deserve to feel safe, comfortable and happy, so don’t try and make it any less of that for someone else.”

  • 17% of drivers have used their car to deliberately block a cyclist.
  • 11% of drivers have deliberately driven close to a cyclist.
  • 9% of drivers have used their car to cut off a cyclist.