Study: Drivers View Helmeted Cyclists as Sub-Human


By Charles Pekow — Ever get the feeling motorists think you shouldn’t enjoy the rights to the road? In Australia, they may even think you’re less than human. The more you look like a cyclist, the lower form of creature they may consider you. If you wear a helmet, they can’t see your head, which may make some drivers wonder what species you come from.

A New York City cyclist. A new study shows that drivers see helmeted cyclists as subhuman. Photo by Dave Iltis
A New York City cyclist. A new study shows that drivers see helmeted cyclists as subhuman. Photo by Dave Iltis

“We found images of cyclists wearing helmets or safety vests to have a higher probability of being selected as less human compared to images of cyclists wearing no safety equipment,” says “The Effect of Safety Attire on Perceptions of Cyclist Dehumanization” (, a survey of 563 people in Australia.

Helmets were more likely to create a perception of subhumanity than safety vests, as the latter don’t obscure eyes or hair – but wearing a vest still made cyclists seem less hominoid.

The authors acknowledge that the respondents may not reflect the entire population of Australia – those answering the survey were generally male, well-educated, and wealthy. The nation’s cycling infrastructure isn’t as broad as that in the United States, which may affect responses. Respondents were also asked to look at pictures, not relay what they saw on real roads.

Most telling, they were asked to choose which of a pair of pictures looked less human, so they had to pick one as less human.

The authors conclude “we caution against using these results, at this stage, to support a position that measures such as mandatory bicycle helmet laws reduce ridership due to dehumanization”


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  1. That study and article are below your normal standard. But perhaps bicyclist could wear a picture of a face on the back of their heads like folks in rural India do to keep tigers from attacking. Then repeat the study to see if the results change. And maybe just maybe they could study to see if the more wealthy males in Australia change their driving behaviors when they see the less human riders


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