Helmets 'make cyclists seem less human'


Helmets make cyclists look less human and may raise the risk of aggressive drivers, according to a study.

A study carried out in Australia looked into the impact of cycle safety wear on a driver’s view on a cyclist, and found that those with helmets were perceived as less human than those without.

The survey, which tested the responses of more than 563, found that those cyclists wearing safety vests were seen as the least human.

The research which was carried out by Mark Limb of Queensland University of Technology and Sarah Collyer of Flinders University, also concluded that the dehumanisation of these cyclists could lead to more aggressive behaviour from drivers.

May ‘increase levels of hostility’

It said: “Dehumanisation has been found to be predictive of hostile and aggressive behaviour, our finding highlights a potential conflict around the perception and utility of safety gear such as high-visibility vests.

It added: “Although designed for safety, they may inadvertently increase levels of hostility and aggression towards this group of vulnerable road users.”

Of the 563 people surveyed, 30 per cent considered cyclists in general as “less than fully human”. The researchers then showed respondents images of cyclists with and without safety gear, and asked choice questions on which they considered less human.

The results were put through a model to assess the most likely response to these images.

‘Presence of gear leads to different psychological response’

The report concluded: “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.”

The researchers had believed that the reasons for this was due to equipment obscuring eyes and hair, but concluded this was wrong, and it was the presence of the gear itself which led to a different psychological response.

The research was republished by journalist Jeremy Vine on Twitter who labelled the findings shocking. Mr Vine is famed for cycling while wearing a go-pro and sharing videos online of incidents with drivers he has had while cycling.

The research said its findings added to a body of work which showed that “cyclists wearing safety attire, particularly high-visibility vests, may be dehumanised more”.

In 2019, a similar study in Australia by researchers at Monash University concluded that more than half of drivers perceive cyclists as not completely human when on the roads.

A 2007 study by Bath University’s Ian Walker found that overtaking motorists were more likely to pass closer to a bicyclist when the rider wore a helmet than those without.