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Road safety and psychology experts in Australia are calling for people to avoid using the word “cyclist” after a study concluded the word dehumanises people who ride bikes and may put them at increased risk of road aggression. A new Australian research has found that more than half of car drivers think cyclists are not completely human, with a link between the dehumanisation of bike riders and acts of deliberate aggression towards them on the road.
The research, Dehumanization of cyclists predicts self-reported aggressive behaviour toward them published in Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, points that cyclists have been imagined 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. Participants in the study were given either the iconic evolution of ape to man image or an adaption of that image showing the stages of evolution from cockroach to human. Lead author Dr. Alexa Delbosc, Senior Lecturer in the Institute of Transport Studies at Monash University, said the insect-human scale was designed for the study because of the many informal stigmas against cyclists comparing them to "cockroaches" or "mosquitoes". On both ape-human and insect-human scales, 55 per cent of non-cyclists and 30 per cent of cyclists rated cyclists as not completely human. Acts of aggression towards cyclists were not uncommon, with 17 per cent saying they had used their car to deliberately block a cyclist, 11 per cent had deliberately driven their car close to a cyclist and 9 per cent had used their car to cut off a cyclist. "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," Dr. Delbosc said. She added, "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." Indian junior cycling team was ranked 1st in the world not long ago. QUT professor Narelle Haworth is behind a push to scrap the word 'cyclist' and replace it with the term 'people who ride bikes'. Professor Haworth, who is also the Director of the Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety- Queensland, said it was important for drivers to view cyclists as real people. 'If we used the term people on bikes, instead of cyclists, we're giving a term that is more human-like and less like a species,' Professor Haworth told Daily Mail Australia. 'We need to spread the idea that those people [cyclists] could be any of us. There is a need to grow a culture of mutual respect for people on bikes,' said Haworth. An Australian Automobile Association study released last year showed that cyclist fatalities in 2017/18 increased by 80 per cent compared with the previous 12 months.
The study by researchers at Monash University, Queensland University of Technology's (QUT) Centre for Accident Research & Road Safety—Queensland (CARRS-Q) and the University of Melbourne's School of Psychological Sciences, is the first study to look at a road-user group with the problem of dehumanisation, which is typically studied in relation to attitudes towards racial or ethnic groups.
But why this hatred towards cyclists?Cyclists in Australia are regularly cut-off at intersections only to be stared down, raised eyebrows by motorists, overtaken by a hair's breadth by trailers, profanities are shouted at them through open windows. Cyclists are the only road users who don't need a license which gives the motorists an excuse to blame the cyclists for the inconvenience caused by other motorists. Motorists feel stressed by the growing congestion and they draw a dividing line between the road users and the 'alien' cyclists. Cyclists are perceived as one homogenous group. Every time a cyclist breaks a law, the motorists reinforce their preconceived bias and give every other cyclist an ill reputation. However, statistics reveal motorists are way more dangerous than cyclists. A 2013 University of Adelaide study found that in 80 per cent of crashes between cars and bicycles, the driver of the car is at fault. Cycling is relatively unpopular in Australia. In some western European countries, 10 to 20 per cent of journeys are made by bicycle compared to Australia with less than 2 per cent. Australians are also cycling less than they were six years ago. One reason for the decline may be the perception of an increase in cyclist-related accidents and the campaign of anti-cyclist hatred. Though cycling fatalities declined by about 2 per cent in the 22 years to 2013, cyclists remain the most vulnerable road users, with studies indicating 10 times the risk of death compared to car occupants. The reasons motorists get so furious at cyclists yet are largely untroubled by bus drivers or road train drivers because if it comes to an encounter with a road train, they not only have their own lives but several hundred passengers to worry about. On the contrary, the slightest contact with a cyclist could bring charges against them and it’s that anxiety that sends their pulses racing. It is their fear that leads to anger, and anger that leads to hate. Despite their love for sports, Australians are up in arms to dismantle this eco-friendly and healthy way of living.