Are cameras beneficial on a cycle?

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I hope they find peace

On average two cyclists die in the UK every week from road accidents, sometimes white bikes are placed where a cyclist has been killed (hover over or click the image to pay respect to a few). It's a fact, the more you ride a bike on the road, the more near miss (or even full contact) events will happen, usually between a car and the cyclist. You will notice all of the white bikes are locked up, isn't it sad that has to be done to a memorial.

Studies suggest many cyclists perceive near misses as life threatening (and personally, it can be that scary), thankfully most are not, as the fatality statistics would be massively higher than they are. When I was training and racing (in the eighties) on average I'd cycle 6000 miles a year, the relationship between the car driver and cyclist was bad enough then, but now it's become almost intolerable.

A friend of mine believes some drivers don't want cyclists on the road and dislike us so much, they intentionality go too close to cyclists on purpose as an act of intimidation. This may well be the case with a minority, however, as a car driver (and a motorcyclist) myself there are many reasons why I don't want to tangle with a cyclist;

  • I don't want my insurance to go up. Have you ever wondered why your insurance renewal asks; have you had any accidents in the last five years even if it wasn't your fault? The truth is the more accidents you're involved with (even if it's not your fault) probability suggests that you have played some part in causing them, and therefore insurer's will put your premium up.
  • Drivers also don't want their car to be scratched or dented, vain I know, but true. If a driver knocks you with a wing mirror (even if there's no damage) and continued to drive, the driver could be charged with leaving the scene of an accident risking a heavy fine.
  • I don't want to be interviewed by police explaining my version of why someone has been seriously injured and the last thing I want is to drive past a white bike, knowing I played a part in it being there.

So no, I don't believe the majority of vehicle drivers intentionally go too close cyclists.

So if it's not intentional, why are there so many near misses?

Near misses happen between motorists on every day journeys, when a driver parks his car they can go within inches of the other stationary cars. Even in a cycle lane, you're not always safe- The next printed revision of the Highway Code will introduce British motorists to the so-called 'Dutch Reach.' A method of opening a car door with the hand furthest from the handle, forcing drivers and passengers to check over their shoulders for approaching traffic.

It's nothing for vehicles to squeeze through gaps on urban roads (hover or click the image to see more), passing inches between stationary cars and oncoming cars doing 30mph, mostly without any contact at all. Drivers are used to this close proximity and don't see it as an issue, the driver feels exactly the same when he pass's close to cyclist, if there's no contact what's the big issue? But there is one massive fundamental factor which is the difference; cyclists are not protected by a steel can.

Falling down from standing hurts, falling off (or knocked off) a bike in motion really hurts and has more chance of a serious injury. I've broken loads of bones during my racing career, but that was a hazard of the sport, I don't expect to be injured on a leisure ride. Just like most people; I have a family, mortgage and a job (which I came close to losing after my last crash). Hand, arm, shoulder fractures are common, but at the very least a cyclist is going to lose a lot of skin. It's no wonder we get a little tetchy when we perceive a potential threat of injury.

Near misses have increased so much, research into them had to evolve. Once such scheme is 'The Near Miss project', it studies cycling incidents that don't result in injuries, but may profoundly influence people's experiences and behaviours. Avon and Somerset police even have their own 'near miss' page, click here to go to it (opens up a new window). It is designed to gather data which they can use with partner agencies in order to improve cycling safety within the force area. Again the page is not to be used for reporting actual collisions if personal injury or physical damage is involved. In 2018 Avon and Somerset police published a report from data gathered stating cyclists and motorcycle riders account for 25% of all road traffic accidents in their area.

What about straight roads when theres plenty of room, why so close then?

Rule 213; Motorcyclists and cyclists may suddenly need to avoid uneven road surfaces and obstacles such as drain covers or oily, wet, or icy patches on the road. Give them plenty of room and pay particular attention to any sudden change of direction they may have to make.

There is much research on the subject, so let's examine one straight line theory. Most drivers can pick a spot ahead and even at fifty mile an hour, they can confidently drive one foot away from it without touching it (such as a row of cones used during roadwork's on a motorway). But a cone has a certain predictability, a cone will not swerve or jump out in front of them, it's static.

Evidence has shown that drivers see a cyclist ahead and consider them to be static like a roadworks cone, even though they know they're are moving; they're moving in a straight line in one direction and in the driver's eyes they are therefore predictable. Though cyclists are anything but predictable; a drain cover, a hole in the road, a jumped gear, a reach down for a drink, virtually anything can alter the course of a cyclist if only by a foot. Drivers know horses are not static, they know they're unpredictable; they know if startled a horse can change direction in an instant and cause a collision. So it makes sense to slow down, keep the engine noise low, and pass wide

There's even evidence to suggest drivers make a micro risk assessment as to how skilful a cyclist is. If the rider is sat well and perfectly stable on the bike, riding in a faultless straight line (as most experienced cyclists do), wearing racing gear and a helmet. The driver believes they're not a threat and will not stray from their straight path, the driver will pass close (but fcuk that's a bit too close in the image! But you get the idea). If the cyclist sways a little or wobbles on the drivers approach (like children or inexperienced cyclists do, hover or click the image to see a change in the drivers attitude), the driver will pass wide because the driver believes the rider presents a threat and are likely to stray in front of the vehicle. Try it yourself (I'm not suggesting you swerve in front of a car), when you hear a car approaching on a straight road just give a quick wiggle of your handlebars making the bike unsettle slightly and see what happens!

Part of Rule 162 of the Highway Code states; Before overtaking you should make sure the road is sufficiently clear ahead, and there is a suitable gap in front of the road user you plan to overtake. If the motorist is going to turn left very soon after overtaking a cyclist, it would be better to wait behind the cyclist instead of overtaking and then cutting left in front of them. ........ if the overtake is performed, it is very dangerous for the cyclist.

Rule 163 of the Highway Code states: give motorcyclists, cyclists, and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car.

That said it's unlikely a cyclist will be hit from behind, it's more likely you will be side-swiped by a vehicle. Side-swiping happens a lot, the driver approaches from behind, they pre-fix a passing distance between you and an oncoming vehicle way ahead, but it's notoriously difficult to judge an oncoming vehicle's speed. Plotting the exact time the oncoming car converges with a bicycle is very complex. As the car behind you moves out and accelerates to overtake, they realise they've misjudged the oncoming vehicle's speed. Now it's a choice of a head-on collision or cutting back on the cycle and pushing the bike off the road. It doesn't take a genius to work out which decision they choose. Have a look at the first short video on the left. Motorists have become so familiar with cyclists they pre-judge whether they can safely (in their belief) squeeze through a gap between you and an obstacle ahead, unwisely believing the cyclist's course is as predictable as a lamp-post. Have a look at the second video on the left.

Though one of the most dangerous manoeuvres is when a car turns left across a cyclist. There is absolutely no excuse for turning left across a cyclist, but what about cars turning right in front of a cyclist? Well, in my view these motorists are defiantly guilty of driving without due care and attention. If all road users knew and understood the Highway Code and put it into practise, most accidents wouldn't happen. In fact the police have stopped calling them accidents, they're called collisions because 99% are caused by human error.

Well, Rule 163 can be quite ambiguous leaving the gap up to the driver, but new guidance came in to the UK in 2018 and dictates motorists should be at least 1.5 metres away from a cyclist when passing and overtaking. However, it's important to realise that the law doesn't specify a particular distance yet.

Even so, there are equally as many disrespectful cyclists as there are drivers.

red light Every story has two sides. I have scoured the internet, viewing loads of car verses bikes and I'm sorry to say most of these incidents were avoidable, with a little anticipation of what other road users were about to do. That's what riding or driving defensively means. One situation often reoccurring is incidents during filtering. While perfectly legal, motorcyclists and cycle riders are in a unique privileged environment as they can filter through stationary traffic, but seeing what's on the other side of every van, lorry, bus, in fact any high sided vehicle is impossible as it's blind. The rider can't see around corners, and are often confronted with pedestrians crossing, then collide with them and then blame the pedestrian. Riding at speed through stationary traffic is not only reckless, but dangerous too.

It isn't illegal for cyclists to undertake vehicles on the left either, but just because you can- doesn't mean you always should. This maneuver comes with a critical warning: never, ever undertake a long vehicle, bus, or an articulated lorry on the left especially if there is a left junction ahead, as this has been the cause of many cyclist deaths. Long vehicles have a blind spot on the left, and you might be in it- they won't even see you as they turn across you. Click the video and decide if this two minute video is potentially dangerous and I would guess this isn't a one off. YouTube and Twitter are littered with cycle verses car events, but they're primarily bias in the cyclists favour; they don't always give a balanced view of the incident. Some of these videos show how cyclists can ride irresponsibly and even antagonise motorists, goading them to react.

Why do cameras on bikes alienate cyclists?

A new study argues cameras worn by cyclists are fuelling tensions between car and bike users. Social media offer hundreds of videos taken by the lightweight devices which are attached to rider's helmets. They can show shocking examples of cyclists being cut up, knocked off, and even physically attacked by irate drivers. On the contrary, nearly all public service vehicles, be they buses or emergency vehicles have video cameras fitted, car dash cams are so cheap and they're a breeze to fit, these are not seen police to provoke tension between that vehicle and another, yet bike cameras are detested. Why is this? The video on the left is dash cam footage from a car and is hilarious.

There could be two reasons for this; the vast majority of drivers wouldn't dream of proceeding through a red light, but some cyclists see it as their right. When a cyclist commits a road traffic offence, they don't have a registration plate and are therefore anonymous, so they get away with it. Another reason is when a bikey films an incident, the cyclist immediately puts the altercation on public media. Though I can see why cyclists feel driven to publicly promote a genuine incident; the police are predominantly reluctant to pursue the matter through the courts (though they wouldn't publicly admit to that). There was one famous videoed road rage incident between a cyclist and a passenger of a vehicle. A car had passed too close to a rider, there was some shouting from the cyclists, the car then stopped and the passenger got out of the car and began repeatedly punching the rider. That video was shown to the police, the case was dismissed because they couldn't identify who the passenger of the vehicle was (even though they knew who the driver was because of the vehicle registration). The assailant was only prosecuted when the video went viral, and finally identified, not really the way it should be and it makes you think- How hard did the police try to identify the perpetrator? If you want to read about a road rage incident that happened on one of my rides, where a lady followed us for a few miles shouting abuse, click here.

How can we affect a positive change?

policeIf we cyclists want to change the mind-set of drivers, then we must change our own attitude. I know it's revolutionary, but we need to Cycle legally, using lights at night with Hi-Viz clothing, stopping at red traffic lights (which is another bone of contention as other countries allow cyclists to go through red lights and this may come in to the UK), using specific cycle lanes when appropriate, and not making a mountain out of every mole hill. Using specifically designed daylights (back and front) in the day has had encouraging results for me, motorists measurably pass wider, but don't be duped into using these strong lights at night, they'll only antagonise motorists.

Some people are appalling drivers, distracted by anything from using the phone to looking at the kids in the back. Not to mention people's eyesight's vary; though they may be still be driving legally. When a driver says 'it's not my fault, I didn't see you' it isn't a free get out of jail card, but it's you who's going to have the worse day if you're hit. In an ideal world drivers would treat cyclists with respect, but they don't, so we have to take the reins. We need to predict drivers behaviour, their actions, and ride defensively. Now, just so a motorist can have a bike eyes view, go back to the analogy of approaching static traffic cones at 50mph, how would you feel if we replaced the traffic cone with you! Then you have to stand there and turn your back on an approaching car. Now stand completely still while the car advances toward you. You can hear the speed of the car by the road noise, the Doppler Effect indicates the car is drawing nearer. I know, you would be terrified, and then the wind would almost knock you off your feet. How many people would want to go through that experience again? This is what it feels like when you're riding a bike on a main road and a car comes too close and it might explain why cyclist's become instantly aggravated by the event.

Some countries have a law that states the vehicle driver is instantly at fault in an accident (until proved otherwise) involving a cyclist and some campaigners want that law to come to the UK. Doing research for this page, I came across many websites- one actively commented drivers should have the right to kill cyclists. Though this was in very bad taste, hopefully it was said tongue in cheek, but it's actually not far from reality. Drivers have only a one in ten chance of being sent to jail after being involved in the death of a cyclist. An analysis of police data on the 40 cyclists killed in London between 2010 and 2012 found that drivers had been imprisoned on just four occasions, the rest were either not taken to trial mainly because of insufficient evidence or had suspended sentences. I have a mixed view on the 'driver is always at fault' law, but for sure, the law is supposed to define what people can and can't do, protecting the innocent though clearly it isn't working.

So back to the issue; are cameras beneficial? To absolutely prove a vehicle has passed close, three cameras are needed; back, front, and side-on video evidence (and who is going to have that). But as the 1.5 meter distance is not quite law yet, it's likely a close pass may only result in a telling off for the driver (assuming they can tie the registration of the car up with a driver). From a police perspective; dashcams and helmet cameras evidential value, all depends on the quality of the images and what they show. Just because a camera has captured an incident does not automatically mean that the police will be able to take action in every case, or that the evidence will stand up to the scrutiny of a court – it will all depend on the circumstances. Police know driving without due care and attention, or dangerous driving is extremely difficult to substantiate, even with video. If there is injury or woe betide worse, footage of the incident will help the police verify fault so they can possibly put together a file for consideration of prosecution. As long as there are no injuries in a near miss, you'll be lucky to get any action out of the police, so filming it is only going to be entertainment for the masses. On the flip side, one potentially embarrassing thing about your bike camera is- it might just implicate you in offences. Of course, you could use the cameras on your bike for that thing they were designed for; recall and enhance wonderful memories.

I have tried to give a balanced view flipping the coin between drivers, cyclists, and other road users, understanding drivers and pedestrians mind-sets' into why they sometimes do what they do is critical. It allows a certain prediction of events. There will always be that arsehole on the road, driving dangerously and with contempt for cyclists. In the end, and until the law changes it doesn't matter who's right or wrong as long as no-one gets injured. Cycling is on an exponential increase and every year there are around 200,000 more vehicles on the road, what will it take to end the feud? Cameras have a place on bikes, though we have to be responsible how we use the footage, we have to play our part and try and bring all road users together.

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