Bicycling fatalities are way up in the U.S. In 2017, an estimated 777 bikers were killed in traffic accidents in the United States. That’s 25% higher than in 2010. Another 45,000 bicyclists were injured in 2017, and the League of American Bicyclists has data showing that bikers are significantly overrepresented in traffic fatalities in several states.

The growth in bicycle-car crashes is especially striking since the number of fatal motor vehicle accidents, on the whole, is trending downward. What could be responsible for the difference?

A recent survey from Queensland, Australia, may give some insight. Researchers at the Queensland University of Technology’s Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety wondered whether drivers were dehumanizing bicyclists.

“The idea is that if you don’t see a group of people as fully human, then you’re more likely to be aggressive toward them,” said one of the study’s authors.

Where do bicyclists fall on the scale of evolution?

The survey involved asking 442 drivers, some of whom were also cyclists, to rank bikers on a scale from ape to human, and then on a scale of cockroach to human. They were also asked about their own aggression towards bikers.

On both the ape-to-human and cockroach-to-human scales, over half of the drivers rated bicyclists as less than fully human. The combined results pegged a biker at only 45% human. Even those drivers who identified as cyclists rated bikers as only about 70% human.

It’s interesting to note that even cyclists were found to be dehumanizing cyclists.

Did the dehumanization of bikers translate into more aggression by drivers? According to the researchers, yes. For example, 17% of the drivers said they had used their vehicle to intentionally block a biker. Another 11% admitted driving too close to a biker on purpose. Nine percent said they had deliberately cut a biker off

The research also indicated that aggression towards bikers only grows with exposure. This may be simply because the drivers who were around bikers the most often had more occasion to act aggressively. Or, dealing with bikers could be a source of long-term frustration for drivers.

Who’s at fault in most car-bicycle accidents?

A lot of people find bicyclists annoying. They have the right to use a whole lane even though they go so much more slowly than cars. It’s so tempting to squeeze past. Bikers either ride like maniacs or take more time than grannies. They get in the way.

They are fully human, though, and they’re usually not at fault in accidents. The League of American Bicyclists reported in 2014 that two scenarios account for 52% of all car-bicycling fatalities. One is a car striking a biker from behind. The other is a car striking a cyclist from the side. In both cases, it’s hard to argue that the biker was at fault in any way.

Bikers: As you already know, realistically, much of the responsibility for staying safe on the roads falls to you. Be vigilant, and keep in mind that you may not seem fully human to the drivers around you.