New breed of cycle warriors go digital by strapping on helmet-mounted cameras to take on dangerous drivers
But is filming other road users and posting footage online merely intrusive?
Ask any cyclist and they’ll be able tell you the story of a lorry-driving madman that nearly crushed them to death as it turned left across them.
Now though, a new breed of digital cycle warrior is strapping on helmet-mounted cameras and taking on dangerous drivers by uploading their footage online and passing incriminating videos to the police.
Thousands of clips on YouTube, captured on high-definition cameras costing less than £200, show drivers cutting up cyclists, running red lights and texting while driving. The most outrageous are disseminated around the cycling community, where they are clocking up hundreds of thousands of hits.
Martin Stanley, 28, a medical researcher from Leeds, started recording his trips to work after a close call with an aggressive driver overtaking him at speed: “Ninety-eight per cent of drivers and my journeys are totally normal, but I’ve had close shaves before, so recording my trips gives me cover if anything awful ever happened,” he said.
Other cyclists like Stephen Perrin, 31, from Birmingham, have captured more extreme situations on film. In April Mr Perrin, who has uploaded more than 150 clips to YouTube, was assaulted by a driver and caught it on camera. The incident was eventually resolved, but since then Mr Perrin has taken others to Birmingham Police. “The camera acts as deterrent to dangerous drivers, but it’s also there as evidence,” he said.
But like many cyclists, Mr Perrin isn’t always happy with the response from officers: “The most they tend to do is warn the driver, which isn’t always good enough, and because I’ve published their numberplate on YouTube and caught myself swearing, I’ve been told I could be liable for a public order offence,” he said.
Nonetheless cycling organisations such as British Cycling have reported dozens of prosecutions resulting from video captured by helmet cameras. According to Jacqui Cullen, an associate at Shoosmiths Access Legal, which often represents cyclists, police action varies from one area to another. She said: “Sending a video doesn’t automatically mean police will prosecute – that depends on severity of the situation and many cases only results in a written warning, even cases of assault on cyclists.”
Figures on video complaints are difficult to gather, but both Halfords and Evans Cycles have reported a surge in the sale of helmet cameras in recent months, with sales of the market-leading Go Pro model more than doubling since last year in the case of the latter chain.
Parimal Kumar, 31, a software engineer who cycles from Walton-on-Thames in Surrey to central London every day, records all his journeys, but like many cyclists doesn’t upload his footage to YouTube. He admits it’s “quite invasive technology” and says he deletes it if he spots nothing dangerous.
Some argue that the camera-wearing trend proves that the existing system is not working. “It’s a sad state of affairs if road users feel that they need to record themselves and what’s happening on the roads around them,” said Edmund King, president of the AA. “Sadly traffic police numbers have dropped 20 per cent in recent years and we could really do with fewer cyclists with cameras and more cops with cameras on the road.”
British Cycling’s campaign manager Martin Key said: “This issue is symptomatic of a much wider problem. The fact that some people choose to wear a helmet camera when they commute by bike is a visible sign of a system that is not working – both in terms of the justice system failing to protect cyclists, and inadequate road infrastructure.”