Helmet Hell

July 21st, 2012 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

You gotta wonder how the increasing cyclists’ recording drivers will play out. For background, check out the biz/tech angles in a NYT piece on camera mounted on bike helmets.

The short of it is that what started out as a nice system for recording training rides, scenery and such has legal uses. Aggressive and scofflaw drivers on video have a real tough time jiving cops and prosecutors.

My wonder is whether it would change behavior if drivers learned they couldn’t count on the using the cliché that it’s the reckless, wilding cyclists, certainly not the guy behind the wheel, breaking the law. From experiential and anecdotal knowledge, as well as DOT and other stats, those who kill and maim, and those who routinely risk the lives of pedestrians, cyclists and drivers, are not on two wheels, rather four or more.

Yet it seems from newspaper reports as well as those personal tales, many cops, prosecutors and judges are eager to believe the mythology of the innocent, law and regulation abiding driver having to watch out for all those terrible cyclists terrorizing the roads with their 30 pound weapons. The extrapolation with this emerging technology leads to related questions. A big one is how will drivers and all those involved in the law deal with increasing proof that far too many drivers are reckless, aggressive, endangering or even homicidal a startling amount of the time.

From what I’ve seen as cyclist, driver, pedestrian and bus rider, a typical driver breaks multiple traffic laws on every single trip. Some are just poor manners, like not signaling turns, thus making others guess, wait, miss lights and so forth. Others could be serious, like running red lights, blocking crosswalks, failing to yield to pedestrians, buzzing cyclists, and cutting off drivers or cyclists. I invite you to follow a few drivers at a safe distance, ideally with a passenger to record what you see. It’s the extremely rare driver who goes more than a few blocks without a moving violation.

Yet the helmet-cam cyclists aren’t out for the majority of drivers who mindlessly disobey traffic laws. After all, most cops can’t be bothered with no-blood/no-wreck violations. Bicyclists are concerned with the aggressive and dangerous drivers who force them off the road, who hit and run, who j-hook them to the pavement, who threaten them first with their vehicles and then often with fists or weapons.

Without the camera, the driver has plausible deniability. After all, don’t we each know what crazies cyclists are, every one?

So, it’s legal to video someone’s actions in public, as in driving down the streets. Cops can’t really hide from their obligations when a cyclist can prove that a motorist crashed into them and sped off, or the like. More helmet cams will mean more prosecutions, fines, suspended licenses, insurance surcharges and maybe even jail time.

How will the driving community react? Will the police tweak their training to remind their officers that a cyclist might be telling the truth about a motor vehicle attack? Will judges have to step back from their identification with fellow drivers over those strange two-wheel types?

I suspect the immediate response from drivers will to try to wheedle out of the proof. Either they’ll call foul on being recorded, or ask whether you want to believe your eyes or their words. Drivers who speak or write of cyclists dearly love their dual fantasy — they are blameless and cyclists at semi-human detritus.

I’m a cautious cyclist in watching out for the loons on four wheels. I do claim a lane, but I never assume drivers will stop at red lights or go the right way down a one-way street or look and yield before entering traffic. Yet, I still get buzzed by bike haters, cut off by ditzes, and threatened by drivers who demand that I get out of “their” traffic lane.

Helmet cams are cheap, money-wise, but precious in concept. Just maybe…

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3 Responses

  1. B says:

    As someone who bikes to work occasionally, who has been hit before (and believed…I was stopped and the lady clipped me with her side-view mirror), I do need to lift up that there are cyclists who consistently disobey lights as well.

    Just this afternoon, I watched a cyclist make an illegal left-turn that would have gotten me a ticket in my car. Granted, on a bike I would have probably done the same thing as there was no oncoming or crossing traffic. Yet, if I had done it in a car every single person watching would have said “WTF!”

  2. Harrumpher says:

    On the other hand, in your scofflaw-biker example, as a driver you almost certainly would not have gotten a ticket. First, cops rarely are around to see such crimes and second they simply don’t bother with ordinary illegal turns and such.

  3. Uncle says:

    Helmet cam…hmm. I’ve reached the point where I suspect I miss half or more of motorist insanity, just because I’m so inured to it.

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