Cyclists Wearing Safety Gear Perceived as ‘Less Human,’ New Study Finds

Cyclist on road wearing helmet and lycra

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A new study published on ScienceDirect looked at “The effect of safety attire on perceptions of cyclist dehumanization.”

Recent research from Australia has found that many people consider cyclists to be less than fully human.

To investigate this further, Mark Limb, from the Queensland University of Technology, and Sarah Collyer, from Flinders University in Australia, set out to determine whether cyclists were treated differently by other road users due to what they wear.

Man with a helmet on a bicycle. Image credit: Unsplash.

Safety Gear and the Dehumanization of Cyclists

The study found that “people wearing bicycle helmets are perceived as less human compared to people without helmets.” The hypothesis was that this was due to safety gear covering up the hair and eyes of cyclists. This was, however, not the case.

Cyclists wearing baseball caps covering the same features were seen as “more human” than those wearing helmets. The study furthermore found that cyclists without helmets who wore high-visibility vests were seen as even less human.

“This finding, and the overall trend of attributing less humanness to cyclists wearing safety attire, indicate the likelihood that safety attire itself may contribute to dehumanization, rather than the obscuring of hair and facial features,” the researchers concluded.

Woman on bicycle without helmet
Woman on a bicycle without a helmet. Image credit: Unsplash.

Gender and the Dehumanization of Cyclists

For the study, the researchers used both a male and female model photographed with and without safety gear. Interestingly, the gender of respondents themselves had a more significant impact on the results than the gender of the models used.

According to the researchers, men were less likely to note differences between the models, while women preferred the female model more strongly. While the general order of preference from non-helmet (most human) through to safety-vest (least human) was consistent between both men and women, men found the difference between the helmeted models and the vested models to be much greater compared to the women respondents”.

Adding, “One possible explanation for this may relate to the differing levels of risk aversion commonly observed between men and women, whereby men’s high-risk tolerance may result in them perceiving those taking more “extreme” safety mitigations, to be less human than those who do not.”

The study supports the notion that cycling attire influences road users’ perception of cyclists. The less safety gear cyclists wore, the more they were humanized.

With dehumanization comes aggressive and hostile behavior. The study highlights that there is “a potential conflict” around the idea that safety gear (like helmets and high-visibility vests) increases motorists’ awareness and caution of cyclists. Instead, it may “inadvertently increase levels of hostility and aggression toward this group of vulnerable road users.”

This research contributes valuable insight into ongoing investigations looking into safety and cycling.

It is important to note that cyclists are extremely vulnerable road users, and protection gear is crucial for their safety. In some countries, wearing safety gear is mandatory by law.

Safety gear and the dehumanization of cyclists

Safety of Cyclists Need to be Prioritized

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “every year 41,000 cyclists die in road traffic-related crashes worldwide,” while millions more are injured in road traffic-related crashes while cycling.

As the world moves to sustainable transport, the safety of cyclists must be prioritized. The WHO highlights that the safety risk connected to cycling is one of the main barriers to using bicycles as a mode of transport.

“Bicycle helmets reduce the odds of head injury by 50%, and the odds of head, face, or neck injury by 33%,” the WHO reports, adding, “it is also important to note that while there are studies showing the benefits of cyclists wearing a helmet, there are also studies suggesting that helmets could be linked to a decline in cycling”.

The WHO calls for a comprehensive approach to bicycle safety, including changes in speed limits, driver behavior, strict liability laws, and a new engineering approach to total safety at junctions and roundabouts and well-funded networks of safe, segregated cyclist paths.

Cyclist with helmet and high-visibility vest.
According to a new study, cyclists in safety gear are dehumanized. Image credit: Unsplash.

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