Motor vehicles and bicycles must share the same rules and responsibilities on the road. However, while the law may see cars and bikes as equals, an alarming number of drivers have reported that they devalue the lives of cyclists.

According to a recent Australian study published in Traffic Psychology and Behavior, nearly half of all drivers on the road view bicyclists as “less than fully human.” Plus, the belief that cyclists are less than human directly correlates to drivers’ aggressive behavior toward them.

What were the findings?

In the study, researchers asked 442 participants to rank the average cyclist on two different scales: an ape-to-human diagram and a cockroach-to-human diagram. Scientists have used similar charts to study the dehumanization of other marginalized groups. The researchers chose cockroaches for the second diagram because it was found to be the most common online slur used against cyclists.

On both scales, more than half of the participants ranked cyclists as not fully human. Motorists only saw the average cyclist as 45 percent human. But more surprisingly, even bicyclists themselves rated the average cyclist as only 70 percent human.

The danger of dehumanization

When you do not see an individual as human, it is easier to justify cruel and aggressive behavior toward them. The study links the dehumanization of cyclists to the negative behavior drivers display around bicyclists. According to the study’s participants:

  • 17 percent of drivers have used their car deliberately to block a cyclist.
  • 11 percent of drivers have driven close to a cyclist on purpose.
  • 9 percent of drivers have deliberately cut off a cyclist.

Motorists must start seeing bicyclists as people, in order to reduce harassing and dangerous behavior towards them. The next time you share the road with a biker, remind yourself they are human.