Half of People Who Drive Think People Who Bike Are Less Than Human

CC BY 2.0. Cockroaches in the bike lane when drivers want to turn/ Lloyd Alter

Why are we not surprised?

Just yesterday I almost got run down by someone driving in the bike lane so that she could make a right turn more quickly. I don't think she even noticed me, but if she had, she might have thought me a lower form of life. According to a new study, Dehumanization of cyclists predicts self-reported aggressive behaviour toward them, most drivers of cars do think people on bikes are not really people at all.

Cockroach to human

© Monash University Alexa Delbosc et alIn the study, the researchers led by Alexa Delbosc of Monash Institute of Transport Studies in Victoria, Australia, showed the classic evolution of ape to human, and another one that showed the imagined evolution from cockroach to human. Delbosc tells Phys.org that "the insect-human scale was designed for the study because of the many informal slurs against cyclists comparing them to 'cockroaches' or 'mosquitoes'."

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

Delbosc noted that 17 percent of drivers admitted to using their car to "deliberately block a cyclist, 11 per cent had deliberately driven their car close to a cyclist and 9 per cent had used their car to cut off a cyclist."

I get that drivers might not consider people who bike to be actual people, but wondered about the 30 percent of cyclists self-identifying as "not completely human." Delbosc explains:

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.

A co-author of the study, Narelle Haworth, picks up on a point that we have tried to make on TreeHugger before: that we should stop using the depersonalized words 'pedestrian' and 'cyclist'. I have written that "'people who bike' is sometimes awkward compared to just saying cyclist, but it's important to never lose sight of what they are – people." Haworth tells Cycling Weekly:

“Amongst people who ride, amongst people who don’t ride, there are still people who think that cyclists aren’t fully human. Let’s talk about people who ride bikes rather than cyclists because that’s the first step towards getting rid of this dehumanisation.”

It's an interesting study that is getting a lot of attention because it is a catchy idea, but I doubt anyone who tries to bike, or for that matter walk, in most cities is at all surprised. They are always treated as some kind of lesser species.