Australian Drivers Regard Cyclists as Not Fully Human, Study Finds

Cyclists are not seen as fully human in Australia, study finds 11 photos
Photo: Monash University
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If you’ve recently bought a bike and were thinking of cycling to and from work to save time and / or get in shape and protect the environment, bad news: drivers tend to regard cyclists as not fully human. At least drivers in Australia do, according to recent research.
Researchers at the Monash University, QUT's Centre for Accident Research & Road Safety – Queensland (CARRS-Q) and the University of Melbourne’s School of Psychological Sciences, have put together a paper that demonstrates that drivers tend to regard cyclists as a combination between human and cockroach.

This negative attitude fuels hatred and aggression and, at the same time, justifies all actions stemming from the former. At the same time, knowing they’re regarded this way, cyclists also tend to become more aggressive in traffic, which escalates all potential conflicts. To reach this conclusion, researchers queried 442 individuals from Australian (New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland), the majority of whom admitted to being aggressive towards cyclists.

Respondents were drivers and cyclists. To evaluate cyclists, they were offered 2 images: the evolution of man from ape and an image made specifically for this study, which showed the evolution from cockroach to human. On neither scale did cyclists rate as human with respondents: 55 per cent of non-cyclists and 30 per cent of cyclists rated cyclists as not completely human on both.

As regards acts of aggression towards cyclists, 17 percent of respondents admitted to using their car to intentionally block a cyclist; 11 percent admitted to driving too close to a cyclist with the purpose of intimidation; and 9 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. This can set up an escalating cycle of resentment,” lead author Dr. Alexa Delbosc, Senior Lecturer in the Institute of Transport Studies (Faculty of Civil Engineering) at Monash University, tells “If cyclists feel dehumanized by other road users, they may be more likely to act out against motorists, feeding into a self-fulfilling prophecy that further fuels dehumanization against them.”

“The bigger issue is that significant numbers of both groups rank cyclists as not 100 per cent human,”
co-author of the paper CARRS-Q Centre Director Narelle Hawort adds. “Amongst people who ride, amongst people who don't ride, there is still people who think that cyclists aren't fully human. Using your car to deliberately block a cyclist, using your car to deliberately cut off a cyclist, throwing an object at a cyclist – these acts of direct aggression are dangerous.”

Hawort suggests a possible end to this dehumanization: banning the word “cyclist” altogether, because it’s already too laden with negative connotations.
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About the author: Elena Gorgan
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Elena has been writing for a living since 2006 and, as a journalist, she has put her double major in English and Spanish to good use. She covers automotive and mobility topics like cars and bicycles, and she always knows the shows worth watching on Netflix and friends.
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