Academics in Australia have called for the word “cyclist” to be banned after a study revealed that more than half of drivers don’t view people on bikes as being completely human.
The study established a link between the dehumanisation of bike riders and acts of deliberate aggression towards them by motorists.
The research was carried out by academics at Monash University, Queensland University of Technology's Centre for Accident Research & Road Safety – Queensland (CARRS-Q) and the University of Melbourne's School of Psychological Sciences.
They say it is the first study to look at the dehumanisation of a specific group of road users, with previous research on the subject focusing on racial or ethnic groups.
Published in Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour under the title ‘Dehumanization of cyclists predicts self-reported aggressive behaviour toward them’ the researchers say that cyclists are seen as a minority group which makes them a target of negative attitudes and behaviour.
In total 442 people in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria were questioned about their attitudes towards cyclists and asked whether they themselves were a cyclist or non-cyclist.
Participants were shown one of two images – the well-known picture of the evolution of apes to humans, and one specially designed for the study that showed the evolution from cockroach to human.
Lead author Dr Alexa Delbosc said the latter had been chosen due to words such as "cockroaches" or "mosquitoes" being used as insults against cyclists.
On both the ape-human and insect-human scales, 55 per cent of non-cyclists and 30 per cent of cyclists assessed cyclists as not being completely human.
Some 17 per cent of respondents said they had used their car to deliberately block a cyclist, 11 per cent admitted that they had deliberately driven their car close to a cyclist, and 9 per cent agreed they had used their car to cut off a cyclist.
Dr Delbosc said: "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.
"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."
Co-author Professor Narelle Haworth, who is director of the CARRS-Q Centre, said it wasn’t just a case of motorists dehumanising cyclists.
"The bigger issue is that significant numbers of both groups rank cyclists as not 100 per cent human," she explained.
"Amongst people who ride, amongst people who don't ride, there is still people who think that cyclists aren't fully human.
"The dehumanisation scale is associated with the self-reporting of direct aggression.
"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."
She added: "Let's talk about people who ride bikes rather than cyclists because that's the first step towards getting rid of this dehumanisation.
In 2015, we reported how campaigners in Seattle had successfully overcome a ‘bikelash’ over the introduction of better cycling infrastructure in the US city through careful choice of words that do not create a “them and us” attitude, such as saying “people driving” instead of “drivers” and “people cycling” instead of “cyclists.”
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.