In a fascinating academic article, researchers found that Australian motorists perceive cyclists as less human and as a result, are more aggressive towards cyclists. This has an impact on the BRAKE cohort, as we want our teenagers who cycle to feel safe and valued on the road.

Getting more people to ride bikes has been flagged as a simple and effective way to improve public health while tackling climate change. However, research has repeatedly found safety concerns deter people from cycling.

Australia’s limited cycling infrastructure often forces cyclists to share the road with motor vehicles. This puts cyclists in a vulnerable position as, unlike motorists, they have little to protect their flesh and bones from the road or the vehicles on it.

To reduce their vulnerability, cyclists wear safety gear such as helmets to protect their heads and high-vis safety vests to make them more visible to other road users. However, our study found cyclists wearing helmets or safety vests are more likely to be perceived as “less human” than those not wearing safety gear. Around 30% of respondents also perceived cyclists to be less than fully human.

This finding is consistent with previous research showing that perceiving cyclists as “less human” (known as dehumanisation) was associated with more aggression towards cyclists. Dehumanisation is the denial of attributes, such as complex emotions, intelligence, rationality and individuality, that differentiate humans from other animals and inanimate objects. To dehumanise is to perceive a person or group as having lesser value and worth, which can lead to their mistreatment.

Sarah Collyer and Mark Limb, The Conversation (June 14, 2023)

The article suggests that Australia needs to follow the lead of countries like the Netherlands and provide safe facilities for cyclists to use that are separated from our roads. This will not only increase the safety of our cyclists but it will also help to make our cities more environmentally friendly.

That is why BRAKE includes education about cyclists in our programs, as we can help to inform and shape our young people’s attitudes about cyclists before they begin driving on our roads.

You can read the full article here.