UK

Helmet cameras capture bad driving

  • 1 February 2011
  • From the section UK
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With more cyclists than ever on Britain's roads, an increasing number are coming into conflict with other road users.

Their latest weapon is wearing a miniature camera attached to helmets or handlebars, to capture bad driving.

Ben Porter, a stagehand from London, bought a camera to show incredulous friends and family just how dangerous his daily commute could be.

Like many others, he uploaded clips of the worst driving onto YouTube and would discuss them on cycling forums like CycleChat.

For most cyclists, "naming and shaming" drivers is as far as it goes. But Ben decided to take things further after one van driver overtook him too close and then jumped out to confront him, shouting abuse.

"I think he wanted to teach me a lesson. It wasn't very nice, but he didn't notice the camera," he said.

Near misses

Mr Porter, 37, took the footage to his local police station and the van driver was eventually prosecuted and found guilty of a public order offence and driving without due care and attention. He was fined £300, with costs of £150 and given five points on his licence.

The cycling organisation CTC says the more people cycle, the safer it becomes, as drivers become used to watching out for bicycles. The organisation says there has been a 91% increase in cycling in London alone since 2000, while casualties have dropped by a third.

However, there are still around 17,000 injuries a year and 104 deaths in 2009, the latest year that official figures are available for.

Most regular cyclists have horror stories of near misses, the bus that overtook too close, the car driver who did not see them on the roundabout, the van that forced them off the road.

With the technology getting cheaper - cameras can be found on the internet for £15, although some people spend up to £200 - and the quality improving, more cyclists are documenting their struggles with drivers. All that is needed is to strap the camera on, set the hard drive recording and away you go.

Simon Robertson, from Haywards Heath, West Sussex, bought his camera from Ebay for less than £20. During his daily commute through central London he was undertaken by a coach while crossing a busy roundabout.

"The driver was in the wrong lane and cut right in front of me from the left, forcing me into the lane to my right. I was just lucky there was no car there - it was terrifying," he said.

Simon posted a link to his video on RoadSafeLondon, a Metropolitan Police website set up for road users to report bad driving. The coach driver was fined £150 and given three points on his licence.

Considerate driving

Such criminal prosecutions resulting from camera footage are still rare but are set to increase, according to DCI Nick Chalmers, who runs the website.

He said an increasing number of cyclists were posting links to their footage which made his job easier, although it was "not a magic bullet".

"The greater the number of cameras covering London's roads the more likely we are to secure a conviction for what are very serious offences. I think head-cams will help produce more considerate driving but video footage does not always show the full picture and the police will only prosecute if the evidence is clear," he said.

Carrying a camera is no guarantee of success and while video is increasingly being used in insurance claims and now in the civil courts, cyclists say the police's attitude to their footage varies between forces and even between police stations.

Nor are all cyclists convinced by the trend. Paul Kitson is a lawyer specialising in personal injury cases involving cyclists. He uses footage in cases but has yet to be convinced to wear a camera on his commute.

"A camera helmet can secure a case for you, but personally I think it's going a bit too far. I do own a cycle helmet camera but I use it for skiing."

However, those cyclists who do use them hope the mere presence of more cameras on the road will encourage other road users to be - in their eyes -more considerate.

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