On-bike camera captures car taking down two cyclists in Berkeley (scary, but no blood and guts)

Small personal cameras are ubiquitous. If your workmates have a mobile phone they’ll almost certainly have a camera that takes stills and video.

Cyclists are one group that’s taking to cameras with particular enthusiasm because they’ve always been very conscious of their vulnerability on roads. Youtube has thousands of videos taken by cyclists showing near and actual collisions with other road users, especially drivers.

For example, here’s footage of two cyclists in Berkeley who’re run down by a car (see exhibit) and here’s a frightening near-miss in Australia (fortunately, no one’s seriously hurt in either of these). This one shows one of those incidents that invariably goes unreported – a driver intimidating a cyclist.

Cameras can be mounted on a bicycle helmet, handlebar, seatpost or frame. Popular models such as the Contour and GoPro cost around $300 to $400, but there’re also other models, like the Minidv, that cost as little as $135.

In the event of a road incident, there’s a chance a suitably fitted camera will provide some objective evidence of what happened. From what I can see in on-line discussions though, police are unlikely to do anything unless there’s an accident involving personal injury or property damage.

A key issue is whether or not the law is keeping up with these technology-related changes. Hopefully lawyers and police are looking closely at the implications of increasing camera use and how it relates to police prosecutions and the value of footage in court.

According to this report, a NSW police spokesman said police may take action after reviewing footage of an accident, but it would depend on the particular circumstances.

More encouragingly, the same report quotes a Sydney lawyer who reckons video from bicycle camera is akin to CCTV footage. He says it could give cyclists strong ammunition if an incident made it to court.

Cyclists aren’t the only ones taking to cameras. Drivers are starting to use them too in order to protect their interests. Pedestrians and public transport travellers are also increasingly exploiting the power of their smartphones to document what’s going on around them.

For example, Daniel Bowen has these two clips he’s filmed from a public transport traveller’s point of view (here and here). They show drivers blatantly ignoring the law relating to passengers alighting from trams, although whether it’s conscious or not isn’t clear.

If more and more road users employ cameras then it could change the culture of road use. All other things being equal, the possibility that there’ll be objective evidence in the event of an accident could give all users an incentive to behave more considerately and attentively.

On the negative side though, the privacy implications of cameras is a potentially controversial issue. CCTV is pervasive and seems to be generally accepted, however personal mobile cameras might be seen as opening up new privacy risks. Again, the law needs to keep up with these developments.

It’s worth noting the privacy (and security) implications of small, unobtrusive cameras aren’t confined solely to public spaces and the transport system. Many ostensibly non-public interactions, such as in the workplace, can be recorded surreptitiously by anyone who’s of a mind to do so.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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