Are cameras beneficial on a cycle?

White bike 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. 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 cars go too close to cyclists on purpose, and this may well be the case with a minority, however, as a car driver (and a motorcyclist) myself there are many reasons I don’t want to tangle with a cyclist. 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. I don’t want my insurance to go up. Drivers also don’t want their car to be scratched or dented, vain I know, but true. Though predominantly my biggest concern as a driver is; I don’t want to be interviewed by police explaining my version of why someone has been seriously injured or worse and then have to live with it. On average two cyclists die in the UK every week, sometimes white bikes are placed where a cyclist has been killed. 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. It’s nothing to squeeze through gaps on urban roads, 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 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.

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

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. 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. Evidence has shown that drivers see a cyclist ahead and consider them to be static, 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. 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.

That said it’s unlikely a cyclist will be hit from behind, it’s more likely you will be side-swiped by a vehicle. 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. 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 or they pre-fix a passing distance between you and an oncoming car way ahead, unwisely believing the cyclist’s course is as predictable as a lamppost, sadly; familiarity breeds contempt. It’s notoriously difficult to judge an oncoming vehicle’s speed, plotting the exact time the oncoming car converges with a bicycle is so complex a computer would have difficulty co-ordinating it. As the car behind you moves out 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. 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. Well that rule can be quite ambiguous leaving the gap up to the driver.

Though one of the most dangerous manoeuvres is when a car turns left across a cyclist. More of rule 162 of the Highway Code states: 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. 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 motorists 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.

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

White bikeA new study argues cameras worn by cyclists are fuelling tensions between car and bike users. YouTube and Twitter 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; they can also show how cyclists can ride irresponsibly and antagonise motorists, goading them to react. Nearly all public service vehicles, be they buss's or emergency vehicles have video cameras fitted, car dash cams are so cheap and they’re a breeze to fit, these are not seen to provoke tension between that vehicle and another, yet bike cameras are detested. 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. 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. Though I can see why cyclists feel driven to publicly promote the 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 driver that was shown to the police, they dismissed it. The driver was only prosecuted when the video went viral, not really the way it should be. 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?

White bikeIf we cyclists want to change the mind-set of drivers, then we must change our own attitude. Cycling legally, using lights at night, stopping at traffic lights, 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. 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. 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. 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 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 a human being, let’s say a car driver and he has to turn his back to the approaching car? He has to stand completely still while the car advances toward him. He can hear the speed of the car by the road noise, the Doppler Effect indicates the car is drawing nearer. I can tell you he would be terrified, and then the wind would almost knock him off his feet. How many people would want to go through the 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 might explain why cyclist's becomes 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? As long as there are no injuries in a near miss, you'll be lucky to even get the police to attend the incident, so filming it is only going to be entertainment for the masses. Police know driving without due care and attention, or dangerous driving is extremely difficult to substantiate, even with video. On the flip side, if there is injury or God forbid worse, footage of the incident will help the police verify fault so they can possibly put together a file for consideration of prosecution. Cameras have a place on bikes, though we have to be responsible how we use the footage, I don’t believe drivers really want to hurt us, but we have to play our part and try and bring all road users together.

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