Bicyclists are considered less than human by nearly a third to half of respondents, according to a survey in Australia.
The dehumanization found in examining aggressive drivers and bicyclists raises questions about violence, like motorists targeting bicyclists by driving vehicles too close to them, which can lead to crashes and injuries.
How drivers view bicyclists
References to violence against bicyclists are common and a "significant minority" of bicyclists actually report harassment and aggression, according to the study by Australian academics.
In asking survey participants about attitudes toward bicyclists, the Australian researchers said that 31 percent rated them as less than human.
It was worse among survey participants who said they themselves were non-cyclists - 49 percent of them said they viewed people who ride a bike as non-human, according to StreetsBlog USA.
Respondents likened bike riders to bugs by slurring them as "cockroaches" and "mosquitos."
Dehumanization long has been cited as a way some people justify scorn and violence directed at women, racial minorities and other groups. In the Australian study, dehumanizing attitudes were measured by asking how much respondents agreed with statements like "I feel cyclists are mechanical and cold, like a robot."
Respondents were asked if they had ever driven too close to a bike rider on purpose or behaved aggressively in another way. The more dehumanization that a respondent admitted to, the more likely that that person directed aggression at a person on a bike.
By removing normal inhibitions against harming others, dehumanization is associated with increased antisocial behavior and aggression.
Respondents in the Australian study who rated bike riders as 89 percent human or less showed 1.87 times more direct aggressive behavior to bike riders, compared to respondents who rated them as more than 90 percent human, according to the research team.
In considering aggressive drivers and bicyclists, the assertion that drivers see bike riders as pesky or worse is not new. A survey of nearly 2,300 people in the major metropolitan areas of Austin, Texas, Chicago, Illinois, Portland, Oregon, San Francisco, California and Washington, D.C. found only a third felt bike riders obeyed the rules of the road. The survey was released in January 2016 and discussed in a CityLab story.
A caution in considering the Australian study: The study was not based on a random sample, but in fact, "over-sampled" high-income males.
Also, the researchers didn't make recommendations about how to improve attitudes toward bike riders. They did speculate that Australia's mandatory helmet law for bicyclists, which can obscure riders' heads and faces, along with riding attire like spandex, could add to the "othering" of bike riders among drivers.
If you need help with an accident involving aggressive drivers and bicyclists, contact the Gervelis Law Firm in Ohio and western Pennsylvania today.