Aggressive Drivers See Cyclists as ‘Less than Human’

Photo: Richard Masoner/Flickr
Photo: Richard Masoner/Flickr

A shocking number of people view cyclists as less than human — even likening them to insects — and that those “dehumanizing” attitudes are connected with aggressive driving targeted at people on bikes, according to a new study.

The Australian researchers asked participants about their attitudes toward cyclists — and 31 percent rated cyclists as less than human. The dehumanization was even worse among non-cyclists: 49 percent viewed people who ride a bike as non-human, according to the study published in the journal Transportation Research.

“Studies have shown that dehumanization is associated with increased antisocial behavior and aggression toward a variety of groups, and that it does so by removing normal inhibitions against harming others,” the author Alexa Delbosc, and her team wrote in their summary.

Delbosc and her team used standard psychological tests of the notion of dehumanization — that is when one group views another group as simply less human than themselves. Such tests have been used previously to show dehumanizing attitudes by one group towards others, for example.

“Dehumanizing” attitudes were measured by asking people to respond with how much they agreed with statements such as “I feel like cyclists are mechanical and cold, like a robot.”

The study also connected the dehumanization to actual aggressive behavior toward cyclists — which was measured by asking respondents if they had ever driven close to a cyclist on purpose, or behaved aggressively in another way.

The more dehumanization that a person admitted to, the more likely that that person behaved aggressively towards a person on a bike, the study found.

“Respondents who rated cyclists as 89 percent human or less showed 1.87 times more direct aggressive behaviors to cyclists compared to the respondents who rated cyclist as more than 90 percent human,” the research team wrote.

Dehumanization studies have measured negative attitudes toward racial minorities, women and other marginalized group, but this is the first study to apply it to people who ride bikes. Some of the negative, dehumanizing attitudes toward cyclists were similar to the animosity experienced by some racial groups, the study found. The average rating for cyclists was 82 out of 100, with 100 being fully human.

To put it in perspective, “this rating is lower (i.e. more dehumanizing) than Americans rating Europeans, Japanese, Australians, Mexican immigrants and East Asians, but higher than Americans rating Arabs and Muslims, British people rating blacks and Muslims or Hungarians rating Jews, Muslims and Roma,” the research team wrote.

To put it in even more perspective, researchers asked respondents to put cyclists on the chart below.

human bug scale copy

The “ape scale” is a classic “ascent of man” graphic used extensively in prior research. But enough respondents used bug slurs such as “cockroaches” or “mosquitos” to describe cyclists that researchers offered a second scale — the “insect scale” above.

“Some people believe that people can vary in how human-like they seem,” the study said. “According to this view, some people seem highly evolved whereas others seem no different than lower animals.”

Aggressive behavior toward cyclists is fairly widespread, previous research has shown. About 70 percent of cyclists have experienced some sort of harassment from motorists, some research has shown. One study found 15 percent report having had an object thrown at them.

“Public references to violence against cyclists are not uncommon and rarely given the same condemnation as, for example, violence toward women or bullying,” wrote Delbosc.

One word of caution about the findings: the survey was not based on a random sample, so it is hard to generalize the findings to the broader population. The survey, for example, over-sampled high-income males, so it may be overstating or understating dehumanizing attitudes toward cyclists.

The research team did not make specific recommendations about how to improve public attitudes toward cyclists. But they did speculate that Australia’s mandatory helmet law may contribute to the problem by obscuring riders heads and faces. Riding “uniforms,” kits and Spandex, may further contribute to the “othering” of cyclists.

185 thoughts on Aggressive Drivers See Cyclists as ‘Less than Human’

  1. That is a fair point, each person’s experience is likely to be different. My experiences in life do not include living in a deep downtown major metroplex. I visit them with some frequency, but under no circumstances would I adopt that lifestyle – it does not suit me or my wife. We like modest sized towns, preferably college towns full of interesting and well educated people. But my life experience and 50+ years of study of the issues lead me to believe my views on how people interact on the roads are more representative of the majority than many who debate me in venues like streetsblog. I know how people actually behave, some badly, but most very respectfully of fellow road users.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  2. Lose what? You’ve already proven me right 5 times in a row without me even trying.

    Thanks for Exhibit E, and by all means keep digging yourself deeper!

  3. Obviously you don’t understand that there is a huge blind spot on the right side of a heavy truck that obstructs the entire side view forward of the back drive axle on an 18-wheel truck, and from there backwards all the driver can see is a narrow triangle so that at the back of a 53-foot trailer the driver can only see 6 feet in width If you are right next to the cab on its right side in 90% of heavy trucks the driver can’t see you there.

    Bike boxes should be illegal and cyclists should have to wait in line like everyone else.

  4. We already had something similar back in the 1970s, and all it did was create a shift to cars that got better fuel mileage. Where do you think we will get the money to build massive amounts of public transit infrastructure as well as redesign cities and their suburbs in pre-1920s linear development fashion that works best with mass transit, and then operate most of our new public transit at a loss, when we can’t even afford to fix potholes today?

  5. Just use your right turn signal, and we will move to your left side. In other words sharing your intent with the 3,000 lb vehicle is all that is needed.

    Generally I just take the full lane so this can’t happen.

  6. James, I think you’re missing a piece of the discussion. That part where I mentioned that the turn signal is on and I’m already starting the turn, and yet the bicyclists still try ride around the front right of the 30,000 pound vehicle.

    The solution I’m looking for is not some easy internet comment. It might require some deep thinking by those who want to be involved in trying to help make bicycling safer, or maybe just help bicyclists be more safe around someone who is pretty much doing everything he can to be part of SAFETY.

  7. Some people steal, some people do not know how to ride safe. Your doing what you can, hopefully some cyclists will learn how to ride safe as well from our conversation and my comment, which is the only answer.

    I would never be in the situation you mentioned, but I have seen plenty of people who do put themselves there. Education is the best we can hope for.

    Cheers!

  8. I used to drive to work, years ago, and completely disagree. I was constantly blown away by how poorly drivers treat each-other. It put me in a bad mood often. Biking has changed that, especially an ebike, now I just take the lane, don’t share, they will take a mile.

    Get An bike/ebike and live life again! Honestly my upset has turned into pity for those who are trapped in their cars, because many are trapped, they don’t even understand there is an alternative, especially with ebikes

    Honestly now, I just feel sorry for them now. I not only do I get where I am going, but I can converse with others on the way at stops, grab a bite, be apart of the world and stay in shape, never needing to hit a gym, while I eating as I please, due to the increased exercise.

    Unfortunately cyclists have hit gold, if no one else notices and wants to hate, oh well.

    Cheers!

  9. What law in particular, that they break, do you find the most annoying, just curious? As a cyclist myself, I understand your perspective, but do you understand ours?

  10. Aww, c’mon. You know cyclists are Trump haters. Kill all of ’em! You know you want to. Them, with their entitlements.

  11. No one is missing this piece of your fictionalized account created to perfectly illustrate how awful cyclists are.

    No one.

  12. If you kill a cyclist, its the cyclist’s fault, clearly. Plus, they’re Trump haters, and America-haters, so, a few less isn’t a big deal, right?

  13. Just today I saw a driver blow through a stop sign. Why would they do that? I see drivers honking aggressively at other cars and cyclists and pedestrians. Why would they do that?

    I see the statistics of drivers who get drunk and then get behind the wheel. Do you know how many people are killed by drunk drivers every single day?

    Every. Single. Day?

    Its 29, Jack. 29 people lose their lives because some driver got drunk, or high, and got behind the wheel of their car. Why would they do that, Jack?

    How many cyclists have killed a car or truck driver in 2019, Jack?

    Do you have any numbers on that one? How many do you think it is, Jack?

  14. “persecution complex”? Your parents failed in the one job they had: not to foist another shitty human being on society.

  15. Blah, blah, blah. All you do is shit on other people’s ideas. You’re that guy in the office everyone hopes didn’t get the invite to the party.

  16. Tough tits. I ride my bike in traffic like that every day in Chicago. Stop whining about stress before your boss comes back to check on you.

  17. None of this is surprising. Americans and many Europeans have been influenced by the insidious creep of fascist culture, ideology and politics. Minorities, downtrodden and the vulnerable are all considered expendable and less than human. Cyclists, (of which I am one), fall under at least one of these categories. It is the age of Trump and Brexit after all.

  18. Great idea. Get rid of trucks and most urban residents starve. Our freight railroads are operating at-capacity in at-least half the US. Railroads today can’t haul fresh food within the constraints of shelf life. Even if you have the ability to grow your own food at approximately 2.5 lbs per-day consumption if you live in an urban area at-least 90% of residents don’t have that ability, so you will have to spend all your time 24/7 protecting your food supply.

    Get rid of cars and the value of 40-50 million homes as well as several million commercial and industrial properties collapse by 90% or more, which causes another great depression far worse than the last one. You will drive most mortgage lenders bankrupt. as well as auto and truck companies, and most of their suppliers too. Then you can ride your bicycle to your heart’s content for a month or two until you starve to death.

  19. Only 30,000 lbs? I have 31 years of experience driving up to 85,000 lbs legally in a vehicle today of up to 72 feet in length. When the tractor is turning right and is already to the right of the trailer all the driver can see in the flat mirror is the right side of the trailer, and the round convex mirror is increasingly-distorted further from the mirror.

    This is a decent video illustration of the issue. This video was made in England, which is a right-hand drive country. The US, Canada, Mexico, and most other countries are left-hand drive countries. In England, Australia, and other right-hand drive countries the driver steers from the right side of the car or truck cab and vehicles drive on the opposite side of the road as in left-hand drive countries.

    Note that tractor-trailer trucks in-use in England are shorter and weigh somewhat less than standard 18-wheel trucks in the US, Canada, and Mexico. That extra truck length in the US, Canada, and Mexico exacerbates the truck blind spot issue.

    Check out what the driver of this kind of truck can see and can’t see when turning left in the UK, which is the same blind spot issue as turning right in the US, Canada, or Mexico. Note that the tractor is already turned to the trailer by maybe 15 degrees, and that in the flat non-distorted mirror the driver can only see the side of the trailer.

    If we figure how that trailer will track in that tight left turn every one of those bicycles in the video stands to get run over by the trailer axles and the driver can’t see any of them.

  20. Come ride a day with me on Valencia Street. Or Market. Or Polk (and watch the number of cyclists who don’t stop for the new stop lights specifically designed to stop the bicyclists so people can turn right.)

    Maybe you don’t care because you’re one of the people constantly putting himself at risk rather than trying to help everyone be safe.

  21. You too Mitchell. It is obvious you have a lot less experience and know little about what is required in terms of logistics or finance to keep a city running.

    I am already out of the office and semi-retired at age 62, but I will still be around advocating for the needs of seniors, handicapped, women, and others who don’t feel safe in cities walking or biking.

    The last time I rode a bicycle was in the mid-1970s and since then have over 4 million miles of driving experience, more than 3 million of that over a 31-year professional driving career working in the wholesale fresh food warehousing and distribution industry.

    I also have a recent bachelors degree in sustainable land-use planning as well as a recent masters degree in urban & regional planning and regional sustainability, from a top-10 university program in the US.

    I don’t believe that there is a such a thing as sustainability at a population greater than 2-3 billion.

    Young people today are probably looking-at 3-4 C worth of temperature rise in their lifetime, which will cause the loss of 30-50% in available water supply across dry areas of our planet as well as 5-10 meters of sea-level rise, which will likely cause up to 2 billion people to become refugees.

    But we can’t destroy the global economy, which would create even more refugees, just to try to achieve sustainability for a minority of Americans today.

    Where will the big cities of the US East Coast get their food supply once we outlaw cars and trucks? Just metropolitan NYC needs 70-80 million pounds of new food supply every single day. Figure an average of 40,000 lbs per-truckload.

    Right this very second there are close to 5000 18-wheel trucks already on the road heading to NYC loaded with food and at-least 1200 more will be loaded with more food bound for NYC tomorrow and every day thereafter.

    Let’s outlaw trucks means the same thing as let’s starve almost everyone on the US East Coast.

  22. I responded to you and included information on about a dozen serious bike accidents here in Colorado where former competitive riders including former Olympians had suffered severe to fatal injuries trying to ride at high-speed mostly downhill on mountain roads in their 50s, 60s, and 70s. Somebody reported my post as spam and it was removed.

  23. Take a hike Bozo. Why hate other people with a different opinion based on 62 years of experience and more than 30 years of professional driving experience? I said persecution complex because it is obviously true. More and more articles like this one prove my point.

  24. Generally if a bicyclist ignores a truck’s turn signal and gets run over by the trailer tires when the truck turns right it is the bicyclist’s fault. I drove semis in Chicago making local wholesale food LTL deliveries as well as truckload beer and industrial freight deliveries for more than 20 years. Chicago is getting very bad for bicyclists who ignore common traffic laws and fail to recognize the danger inherent in riding around heavy trucks and buses.

    My wife and I live in Metro-Denver, where it is common for cyclists to run red lights and stop signs, as well as ride the wrong way on one-way streets, ride on the sidewalk even though there is a bike lane 20 feet away, ride off the sidewalk into traffic without looking, and even mow down pedestrians in crosswalks.

    Just at one downtown Denver intersection, 14th Street and Larimer, just walking to and from where I parked to my office 4 days per-week from 2014 to 2017, I saw 8 pedestrians get mowed-down by bicyclists running red lights. In all 8 cases the cyclist tried to jump up and ride away after the accident, and in only 3 of those cases were bystanders able to catch the cyclist involved.

    What is your position on a cyclist running a red light at a busy downtown intersection, mowing down a pedestrian, and then trying to hit and run? Maybe 6 months in jail and a $1000 fine as we can’t suspend their bike rider’s license?

    Now we have to mix-in those electric scooters whose riders aren’t required to have a driver’s license . They ride on the sidewalk at 15 mph, drive through crosswalks without legal right of way, they don’t signal their turns legally, it is almost impossible to drive a heavy freight vehicle or a city bus around bikes and scooters that fail to observe traffic laws when trucks and buses take 100 feet to stop from 30 mph.

    Something has to be done to ensure better compliance with traffic laws. I favor forcing adult cyclists and scooter riders to get a riders license and license plates so that scofflaws can be more-easily apprehended and if necessary their license can be suspended or revoked. What is your position on the high percentage of adult bike riders who ride while legally intoxicated? In 2017 32% of bike riders who were killed in an accident were legally-intoxicated. How do we greatly-reduce that number?

    Some cars run stop signs and red lights too. The current penalty for getting caught doing either is 3 points on your driver’s license and a fine of $150 average . You only get 12 points every 3 years before your driver’s license can be suspended. What is the penalty for a cyclist that runs a red light? How many times can you do that in 3 years and get caught before you lose your bike rider’s license and/or have your bike impounded?

  25. What boss? I am semi-retired at age 62. I drove semis in Chicago making local refrigerated deliveries for 20 years, plus drove truckload industrial freight and loads of beer there too. The only place in Chicago with traffic like this is on the Dan Ryan or the Kennedy inside the Edens split. How often do you ride your bike on the Ryan? There are no roads in Chicago with 10 lanes not divided, I happen to know better.

    How often do you ride on Mannheim or on North Ave in Melrose Park? Those roads are only 3 lanes per-side. How about on Hwy 83 in Elk Grove Village? Again, only 3 lanes per-side. How many lanes does Ashland have? Two lanes each way plus parking each way south of the Stevenson. North of the Kennedy some stretches of Ashland have 3 lanes each way divided.. How about Halstead? How about Damen or
    Elston? How many lanes do Fulton or Lake have? How about Randolph or Madison? How about State Street down past where the Taylor Homes used to be? How about Grand or Milwaukee, or Addison or Irving Park? Peterson, Bryn Mawr, Clybourne, Dempster? How about Cicero, how often do you try to ride on Cicero? I drove an 18-wheel truck on every one of those roads for many years, Roosevelt and Pulaski too.

    About the only thing that bike lanes are good for in Chicago is so people in a huge hurry driving little cars or motorcycles can try to pass buses and semis in the bike lane.

  26. I guess your limited ability to think creatively prevents you from understanding there are alternatives to fossil burning vehicles. Yes with today’s infrastructure and economy a quick transition would be a disaster. That doesn’t preclude a makeover of economics and infrastructure. Why was the freight rail system in the US dismantled to favor trucking? Why were cities and suburbs designed for the automobile? That stuff can be changed to a more rational model where quality of life is enhanced and the planet can actually survive. Think like a dinosaur and die like one.

  27. I have seen it with my own eyes, the eyerolls when a 4-wheel driver 😉 has to legally low drive behind a cyclists. Quick question: Im new to cycling and found a FSA SLK Drop Stem Brand New for $55 on ebay. Is this a good deal? It’s cheaper than retail for sure. Also founmd one on oddsclassifieds.com but I didn’t see the pice listed 🙁

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