Dynamo member, Ben Cooper, writes about his experience of using a safety camera to record his cycle rides.
I have always felt a little sceptical about using a video camera on my bike. I’ve commuted the same route every day for almost five years now and, yes, I have experienced some scary near misses, but I’ve always associated the use of cameras with court cases, nasty confrontations and another reason for people to need insurance for everything! I didn’t want to become ‘that angry cyclist’ (this seems to be the label many cyclists are branded with when they are in shock from a near miss or, in unfortunate cases, an accident). Furthermore, it seems to be a sad state of affairs when cyclists are required to record their 3.5-mile commute to work for protection purposes; can’t we all just make space for each other? I naively hoped that one day, people would start to take notice of me at the side of the road; that they would give me some generous passing space when overtaking in their two-tonne lump of metal. Maybe, they would also begin to look out for me at junctions, wait a few extra seconds to turn left, and think before opening their door. However, I have failed to see any improvement in drivers’ awareness of cyclists and, if anything, my own personal experiences have been worse. I should clarify that the road users I am referring to are generally a minority and, in most cases, drivers are courteous and respectful. I also hold a UK driving licence, along with 80% of the cycling population. My life would be very different without the use of motorised transport.
Whilst riding on a charity sportive earlier this year, I was knocked off my bicycle in Scorton with about 200 yards to go before I reached the finish, and my long-awaited hot pot. I was clearly visible, riding down the centre of the lane with a fluorescent yellow helmet and bright orange gloves. The car pulled out from behind park cars, and took a chance that it was clear. Fortunately, there was only superficial damage to my forks, and a ripped pair of shorts. The driver was extremely apologetic, I reported the incident with Lancaster Constabulary and, I was refunded for some new lycra. However, this got me thinking about what if the incident had been more serious? What if the gentleman had been less honest, or had been unable to pay for the damage? What if they’d driven away or, tried to blame me for damage to their car? I seriously started to mull over the idea of buying a camera for my daily commutes.
During the next few weeks, I was subjected to a rather aggressive and vocal van driver who seemed to have an unbelievable hatred for anything on two wheels. Shortly after, I also experienced a very near miss from a large van. This near miss really broke the camel’s back for me, and I immediately started researching cameras online. My initial concerns were size and shape, storage maintenance, price, battery life and picture quality to recognise registration plates. I narrowed this down to a Cycliq Fly12 combined front light and camera, and a Roadhawk Ride R+ helmet mounted camera. The Fly12 is an excellent unit, carefully disguised as a light and seems to outperform other units on the market. However, at a cost of £250 (it seems to have come down a little since then), my budget led me to the Roadhawk. Slim and lightweight, this can be clipped into a helmet mount, and I often even forget that it’s there! The camera has a loop record function, which means you don’t need to keep connecting the camera to a computer to free up storage space. The battery life could be better, lasting around 1.5 hours in full 1080p HD mode. However, I have been very impressed with its overall performance to date.
Figure 1 – This image shows how close the car came to me. Another car can also be seen, driving in the opposite direction on this narrow stretch of road.
Not long after I started using the camera, riding past Williamson Park on my morning commute, I experienced a very close pass from a car, on a bend with poor visibility (see Fig.1). I panicked slightly and looked towards the car to check if it was moving in closer or, maintaining its distance. As I looked through the passenger’s window, I could see that the driver was texting on their mobile phone! I couldn’t believe this, it seemed as though they were totally unaware that they had just passed me. What if they had been 6 inches further to the left? How close did I just come to being mince-meat at 7.45 a.m., less than a mile from my own front door (see Fig. 2)! I thought about the other 750,000 cyclists, or more, who commute to work by bicycle in the UK. These people are our families, friends, and colleagues. I sent the footage to Lancaster Constabulary in the hope that they could identify the driver and seek to educate them on the vulnerability of cyclists (and walkers), and the responsibility they have as a road user. Unfortunately, my footage did not capture the use of a mobile phone, however, I was pleased to receive a positive response from the Police who assured me that they would be contacting the driver to remind them of their responsibilities and to educate them about the importance of giving cyclists space when overtaking.
Figures 2 – The above image illustrates how little room I was left with at the side of the road.
Fortunately, I have not experienced a close pass of this proximity since and I suspect this is in part due to the visible bullet shaped camera mounted on top of my helmet. I definitely feel as though this prevents drivers from taking risks as, they know they are being filmed. I’ve certainly seen a few cars think twice at junctions upon spotting the camera. In the last couple of weeks, I have also been using a Cycliq Fly6 rear light and camera, generously loaned from Lancaster Dynamo cycle campaign group, in the hope of extending the range of Lancaster Constabulary’s #bikebobbies undercover police bicycles. The rear camera really helps to paint a full picture of both my own movements in the road and, any approaching vehicles. Often a single camera alone can lack some context and penalise one party more severely than the other. The rear camera also has a clever function whereby, it can predict when a crash has occurred and, securely stores the camera’s footage 10 minutes either side of the event. Both cameras are very easy to upload footage to a computer, and are also time stamped for further evidence.
As I mentioned earlier, I don’t feel that this is a permanent solution to the problem of cyclists’ vulnerability on our roads. Ultimately, what we require is an attitude shift on a national level, and greater investment in safer infrastructure around the UK’s cities and towns. However, I think we’re a long way from Dutch cycling standards and, for the time being, the camera is easy to use, it helps me to feel safer on my commute, and I am reassured by the proactive nature of the local Police that we are helping to improve driver awareness. We’re not quite at the standards of the West Midland’s Police’s ‘Close Pass’ initiative yet but, at least they are doing something.
Please leave your comments below regarding your thoughts on the use of cameras and, your own experiences.
Thank you for reading and, I hope this has been of some use.