More than half of car drivers think cyclists are not completely human, according to the findings of a new study by researchers at Monash University, QUT’s Centre for Accident Research & Road Safety – Queensland (CARRS-Q) and Professor Nick Haslam at the University of Melbourne’s School of Psychological Sciences.

This is the first time a study has look at a road-user group with the problem of dehumanisation, which is typically studied in relation to attitudes towards racial or ethnic groups. Researchers say that, if drivers can put a human face to cyclists, this could reduce aggression directed at cyclists and road trauma involving riders.

“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,” said Lead Author Dr Alexa Delbosc, Senior Lecturer in the Institute of Transport Studies (Department of Civil Engineering) at Monash University.

“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.”

The research, Dehumanization of cyclists predicts self-reported aggressive behaviour toward them published in Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, suggests that cyclists have been conceptualised as a minority group and a target of negative attitudes and behaviour.

The study, involving 442 respondents in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, identified people’s attitude to cyclists and whether they were cyclists or non-cyclists themselves.

Acts of aggression towards cyclists were not uncommon, with 17% saying they had used their car to deliberately block a cyclist, 11% had deliberately driven their car close to a cyclist and 9% had used their car to cut off a cyclist.