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New study examines what influences drivers’ aggressive behaviour towards cyclists

Non-cyclists are said to be more influenced by perceived social norms when behind the wheel

A new study has been published examining what shapes car drivers’ aggression towards cyclists. Dr Laura Fruhen of the University of Western Australia and Professor Rhona Flin of the University of Aberdeen looked at how attitudes and social norms inform drivers’ behaviour.

A sample of 276 drivers completed an online questionnaire concerning their attitudes towards cyclists; their attitudes towards risky driving; their perception of social norms concerning aggressive driving towards cyclists; and the frequency with which they engaged in aggressive driving behaviour.

As you might expect, negative attitudes towards cyclists were more pronounced in non-cyclists than cyclists. Fruhen also told that the association between negative attitudes and aggressive driving behaviour was stronger in cyclists than non-cyclists.

"We found both that motorists' attitudes towards cyclists and their perceptions of others' aggressive behaviour towards cyclists influenced how often they reported engaging in aggressive behaviour towards those on bikes.”

The perception of how others behave towards cyclists also had a stronger association with aggressive driving in non-cyclists than cyclists. However, attitudes towards risk taking did not seem to affect people’s behaviour behind the wheel.

Fruhen hopes that the findings will be of use to campaigns geared towards improving the interaction between cyclists and motorists.

"In the absence of cycling infrastructure separating them, both these groups will have to work on sharing the roads. It is about being considerate from both sides.

"Drivers may see cyclists as annoying because they slow them down but they should remember that each cyclist they encounter is also just another person trying to get from A to B.

"One cyclist actually means one less car, less congestion and less pollution, which are increasingly important issues in our growing and more densely populated cities."

In 2012, social psychologist Dr Ian Walker said that the reasons behind driver aggression towards cyclists cannot be accounted for with normal psychological explanations. Walker examined a number of factors he felt could be having an influence, but concluded that even combined they could not explain all the anger that cyclists experience. "So there’s clearly one or more important variables that we’ve not identified yet.”

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