Some cyclists are arming themselves with cameras to capture worst-case scenarios
Proponents of bike cameras say they're key to holding reckless drivers accountable
Some worry that cameras perpetuate the idea that cycling is inherently dangerous
Cyclist Alan Crocker regrets flipping off the driver of the blue pickup that buzzed past him on a recent Saturday morning in Rome, Georgia.
He’s not proud of it, and he’ll never do it again – especially now that he knows how unpredictable the response might be.
Crocker was wearing a helmet camera that recorded the driver getting out of his vehicle and knocking him over on his bike. He showed the footage to the Floyd County police officer who responded to his 911 call. According to a police report, the footage convinced the officer that the driver was “the aggressor,” refuting his claim that Crocker provoked him by kicking his car.
The driver, who did not return requests for comment, was arrested on charges of assault and battery and released on bail. He is awaiting a court date.
Meanwhile, Crocker wonders whether things would have turned out different if he wasn’t wearing his helmet camera that day.
“I was able to show the officer the video right there on the side of road,” he said. “It’s not every day that there’s clear evidence showing a cyclist was mistreated.”
Starting a movement
It’s National Bike to Work Week, but bike-friendly roads are still hard to come by in many states, according to rankings released Monday by the League of American Bicyclists. The uneasy relationship between drivers and cyclists can also keep would-be riders off the road.
It’s rare for drivers to respond to bicyclists with intentional acts of aggression. But with more bicycles and cars sharing the road, some cyclists are arming themselves with helmet or mounted cameras for the worst-case scenarios.
“Years of experience with law enforcement teaches most frequent and enthusiastic riders that you unfortunately can’t rely on police officers to know the traffic laws as they relate to bikes, or to believe a cyclist’s version of what happened,” said Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists.
“There is a pervasive sense that cyclists shouldn’t be in the road or should be in the gutter and therefore are in the wrong or just sort of deserved what was coming to them, so video footage can be quite helpful.”
Bike enthusiasts tend to be early adopters of technology, especially if it helps them document (or show off) their rides, Clarke said. Chances are the most hardcore cyclists in your neighborhood have long been donning helmet cameras, GPS trackers or fitness monitors for their rides.
It’s rare for a cyclist to successfully use helmet camera footage against a motorist, but Crocker’s case is the latest example of a cyclist using a camera to document reckless driving. Much of the footage ends up on online, where a movement is growing to catalog repeat offenders, dangerous roads and intersections and make laws intended to protect cyclists more effective.
Crocker uploaded his video to Close Call Database, where cyclists log incidents involving vehicles. The database catalogs incidents by geography and sends out alerts to users in an area where an incident is reported.
Ernest Ezis launched Close Call Database in December after his own close encounter. He was on a group ride outside Boulder, Colorado, on a two-lane highway with a bike lane. A semi accelerated past them at about 60 mph, so close that the side mirror nearly clipped one of his friends and rattled the rest of them off their bikes.
“You have a few close calls that are really dangerous, but usually you forget about them and move on,” he said. “This particular time, I stayed angry, and I wanted to do something about it.”
The main goal of the site is to be a centralized database to catch repeat offenders and identify roads that are more dangerous than they might seem. Ezis has come to believe that incidents documented on camera are the best evidence to bring to law enforcement.
“I think you’ll be much less likely to pass me at 60 mph and only give me 6 inches of space if you realize that might be caught on camera.”
He realizes that most close calls are not malicious or intended to hurt cyclists. But ignorance of laws intended to protect cyclists, like safe passing distances, can be just as deadly.