As a motorist, I can understand  that sometimes it is easy to forget that we share the roads with other people. While drivers of motor vehicles appear to outnumber other road users, as motorists we often forget that others utilise our roads to go about their lives. Challenging our perceptions of other road users could only be beneficial. Increased understand and some empathy can go a long way in reducing incidents on our roads.

In this series of blog posts, we will look at how we perceive other road users in relation to vehicle drivers. Cyclists, pedestrians, taxis and busses will all be examined.

A recent study published has revealed that drivers often dehumanise cyclists which can lead to aggressive behaviour towards them (Delbose, Naznin, Haslam & Haworth, 2019). Around half of non-cyclists surveyed held the view that cyclists are ‘less than fully human’. This dehumanising behaviour correlated with aggressive attitudes towards cyclists. The study further points out that a significant minority of cyclists reported harassment and aggression towards them from drivers.

Aggressive behaviour and a lack of compassion for fellow road users is especially prevalent in South Africa. Numerous cases of tragic incidents involving cyclists are reported each year. The Road Traffic Management Corporation stated that the road deaths among cyclists climbed from 320 in 2015 to 451 deaths in 2016. These cases are often emotive and lead to questions regarding our own humanity. This was especially the case in the high-profile death of Burry Stander in 2013.

Interestingly enough, when this article was reported on in South African media, comments sections further highlighted the anger towards cyclists who share the roads with other road users. Many commenters claimed that cyclists are a nuisance to other road users and should not even be allowed on the roads. Indirectly, many dehumanising comments were made with regards to how to deal with “problem” cyclists. While many other comments did rightly call out this behaviour, there was a clear form of displeasure aimed at cyclists.

Many arguments against cyclists revolve around flawed logic such as not paying for access to roads like cars do, no identifying plates like on cars, bad cycling habits and cyclists not needing licences to travel on roads. This licensing argument has two components. This first is that cyclists are not tested for competency before travelling on public roadways. The second is that cyclists do not pay their fair share for use of roads. GeorgiaBikes indicates that while education for cyclists is important, there are methods other than licensing to achieve this. With regards to cyclists paying their fair share for use of the roads, the majority of cyclists are themselves owners of motor vehicles and pay taxes.  All money earned through VAT, PAYE, fuel tax etc is added to the fiscus and distributed to various areas such as roads and transport as stated in the budget. Cycling also does far less damage to roads as they are lighter and place less pressure on the asphalt. Furthermore, cycling contributes more positive externalities than driving cars. More cars on the road contributes to traffic, CO2 emissions while more cyclists on the road mean less CO2 and improved health of riders. Finally, cycling is inherently less dangerous than driving cars. A fall on a bike is far less dangerous, in most cases, than a collision in a car. Clearly, cycling is not a negative force on our roads and we need to understand that they form part of the transport solution.

We need to change our perceptions towards those who utilise the roads. We should encourage more people to cycle, take public transport, and walk. This has numerous benefits for transport in the city and for the public in general. By demonising or discouraging other road users we end up with more cars on the road and more traffic.