Video protection on the roads

I have a compact HD video camera which I use routinely when travelling around Edinburgh – always when I use the car and almost always when I travel by bike. Relatively inexpensive, charges by USB with zero hassle and I don’t need to sit through unwanted footage – perfect :)

I recently had a near miss at the hands of a driver I subsequently filmed tapping away on their mobile phone; I might not have been so bothered had they not waved their phone under my nose while telling me it wasn’t their problem.

I rang it through on 101 – something you’d think would be an open-and-shut case but which Police Scotland could hardly have been less interested in.

Out of sheer frustration I posted footage of the incident on YouTube and, amongst other channels, it looks like this is going to run in tomorrow’s Edinburgh Evening News [edit: now updated with link – a very positive piece by Jen Lavery].

Although I’ve featured numerous videos on the site I haven’t yet discussed the actual act of filming the streets and thought this might be a good time to do so.

The truth is good for everyone

The main person who is being filmed by drivers with dash cams and cyclists with headcams is the driver/cyclist themselves. From the moment I start the ignition the film starts rolling and my every move is precisely detailed until the moment I park up.

Ditto on the bike. Another driver or cyclist may feature for a few moments but then they’re gone and (mostly) forgotten. Should I hand over footage to anyone the feature attraction is my own speed, positioning and attentiveness.

It might sound daft, but watching video footage of yourself on the roads has a massive impact that you just can’t get any other way. For instance, you keep getting cut up at a particular junction but when you watch the footage back it’s obvious that you’re too close to the kerb and inviting a dangerous overtake.

You slow down to half speed on a cycle track (like the North Edinburgh paths) but you still get a couple of tuts – you can actually watch back and decide whether you were out of order, or if it’s just a spot of NIMBYism from a vexed pedestrian.

A camera also protects you (or condemns you) when things get more serious. I hit an uncontrolled dog recently and there was nothing stopping the owner claiming he had it on the lead and I was “speeding” except the cold hard truth of the video reel. At the same time, if I do nail someone on the paths and we both get carted off to A&E it’s just as possible that the video might be used the other way.

While cyclists seem to get all the press when it comes to cameras on the road, widespread use of recording equipment is coming fast across all vehicle classes.

More than six hundred buses in Edinburgh city centre are continuously filming from multiple angles and this has helped Lothian Buses’ drivers attain an enviable reputation for sensible driving. Goods vehicles, fleet vehicles and an increasing number of private vehicles are following suit. Everyone’s a winner (so long as it’s not your bad habit of texting and driving that’s getting an airing).

Out-grouping and survivor’s justice

Cyclists in particular face a massive uphill struggle for safe treatment on the roads and do not often enjoy the protection of the legal system when things go wrong.

In the worst case scenario, the authorities are left with a corpse and a driver who insists they did nothing wrong (“he came out of nowhere!” “he was in my blind spot” “he swerved and there was nothing I could do”) and as you might expect, justice in these scenarios is in extremely short supply.

Some drivers actually manage to kill twice, such as lorry driver Joao Lopes in London, or Edinburgh’s very own Gary McCourt, and it’s not impossible (in fact, odds are it’s likely) that these two are just the tip of an iceberg of bad driving that often – thankfully – doesn’t have terminal consequences for innocent passers by.

Ask any accident investigator what they’d give for high definition, 60FPS footage of any driver’s actions in the moments leading up to a crash and I wager they’ll bite your arm off.

Infrastructure and public comment

While life is too short to bother with every dangerous manoeuvre you see on the road, video footage can still be very useful for more mundane tasks like harassing your local councillors over a dangerous or substandard section of road, as I’ve tried to do with Edinburgh’s ridiculous “Quality Bike Corridor” and also in the campaign on the redesign of Leith Walk.

A growing number of drivers who speed through Edinburgh’s southside 20mph pilot zone are, unknown to them, being archived in high definition video. Sure, Police Scotland aren’t keen on enforcing 20mph limits but you can bet they will be interested in establishing a pattern of behaviour after any collision (as will drivers’ insurance companies).

This type of crowdsourced data may also be invaluable for targeting any enforcement or infrastructure efforts that come along at a later date.

That awkward thing – evidence

As the number of cameras on the roads increases they are steadily being cited in more and more convictions (and uncounted insurance victories), but the real problem is not the use of video footage in court – the Metropolitan Police have gone on record to say that video footage is helpful in encouraging people to “plead guilty rather than trying it on” and that they have “reduced a lot of time at court”.

Rather, the issue is getting the police and prosecutors to accept and act on documentary footage when it is presented to them – in London a scheme has been established which allows direct video submission from the public that in turn may lead to targeted enforcement or prosecution (with variable enthusiasm) but this has not been widely adopted.

As my own experience shows, it can even be difficult just to get your footage aired despite making a direct allegation to the police. It’s not like these things have to result in masses of paperwork or someone going to jail (there are options like cautions, fixed penalties and the s.59 antisocial driving marker that can be easily applied).

Cracking down on dangerous driving is a no-brainer and a road which is driven on with care is a road that all of Edinburgh’s citizens can enjoy living around and travelling along.

But before that can happen, Police Scotland (amongst others) need to start taking road safety much more seriously.

7 Comments

  1. Alan Russell

    Thank you David for putting these posts and campaigning so tirelessly for cycle safety improvements. Your footage of the QBC makes me glad that I don’t have to use it for my daily commuting run (which is from Baberton to Drumsheugh Gardens via the Lanark Road and Haymarket). I have only had one crash in three years, and there as well the police weren’t really interested at all, despite me being injured and it being a hit-and-run. The up-side was that I got a £2500 payment from the offending driver’s insurance. The downside is that the driver is free to hit someone else. If I had had video footage, that might have been admissable as evidence and strengthened my case – do you have any recommendations for cameras for this purpose? Thanks again, AlanR.

  2. Alan Russell

    Just seen your suggestion on the “big traffic jam” videoblog of the Contour videocam. Thanks for that, I’ll get one, I think.

  3. Dave

    Hi Alan,

    I strongly recommend the Contour Roam 2 and at the end of the day, if it’s not for you Wiggle do both free delivery and free returns – why not give it a try?

    The Contour cameras have a couple of big advantages for me over the GoPro series :
    – less expensive
    – lower profile: less ridiculous looking and less likely to get knocked about
    – effortless to control with gloves on and without taking off your helmet: huge chunky sliding button

    The raw quality has to be seen to be believed, by the time YouTube has gone through with it it’s pretty mangled!

  4. Alan Russell

    Hi Dave, I ordered one late last night after posting my comment and Wiggle just emailed me to say it’s on it’s way – BTW, are the supplied mounts from Wiggle OK to attach to a standard vented cycle helmet or would you recommend I just lash it on using a cable or even invest in a mount? How do you attach it?
    Thanks for all the help, by the way!
    AlanR.

  5. Dave

    Hi Alan,

    The camera comes with adhesive-backed mounts which may be OK depending on your helmet. The alternative is to grab one of the vent-specific mounts which will be a lot more flexible.

    This will do the trick (eBay).

    I recommend you get a 32GB card as well. It will come with a small card that probably won’t manage more than a half hour of footage before filling up!

  6. swayze

    Most cyclists are middle class, educated and non-aggressive, most pieces of human vermin like McCourt are proles well used to agg who perceive bicyclists as easy prey. Militant action is what’s required, as the judiciary obviously doesn’t give a shit.

  7. Alan Russell

    Thanks Dave! I have ordered the mount from Ebay which you recommended and I’ll organise the memory card. Thanks.

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