According to one study, helmets make cyclists look less human and can increase the risk of aggressive drivers.
A study conducted in Australia examined the impact of cycling safety clothing on a driver’s view of a cyclist, and found that people wearing helmets were perceived as less human than those without.
The study, which tested the responses of more than 563, found that the cyclists wearing safety vests were considered the least human.
The research, conducted by Mark Limb of the Queensland University of Technology and Sarah Collyer of Flinders University, also concluded that dehumanizing these cyclists could lead to more aggressive behavior from motorists.
Can ‘raise levels of hostility’
It said: “Dehumanization appears to predict hostile and aggressive behaviour, our finding points to a potential conflict around the perception and usefulness of safety equipment such as high visibility vests.
It added: “While designed for safety, they may inadvertently increase hostility and aggression towards this group of vulnerable road users.”
Of the 563 people surveyed, 30 percent viewed cyclists as “less than fully human” overall. The researchers then showed the respondents images of cyclists with and without safety gear and asked choice questions that they considered less human.
The results were run through a model to assess the most likely response to these images.
‘Presence of equipment leads to different psychological reactions’
The report concluded: “We found that images of cyclists wearing helmets or safety vests are more likely to be selected as less human compared to images of cyclists not wearing safety gear.”
The researchers had thought the reasons for this were due to equipment obscuring eyes and hair, but concluded that this was wrong, and it was the presence of the equipment itself that led to a different psychological response.
The research was republished by journalist Jeremy Vine on Twitter, who labeled the findings shocking. Mr Vine is known for cycling while wearing a go-pro and sharing online videos of incidents with drivers he’s had while cycling.
The study said the findings added to a body of work showing that “cyclists who wear safety gear, particularly high-visibility vests, may be more dehumanized.”
In 2019, a similar study in Australia by researchers at Monash University concluded that more than half of motorists view cyclists on the road as not fully human.
A 2007 study by Ian Walker of the University of Bath found that overtaking motorists were more likely to get closer to a cyclist when the rider was wearing a helmet than those without a helmet.