Cyclists in the Capital have taken to recording their commutes in an effort to hold dangerous drivers accountable.
Bike stores in Edinburgh have reported rising sales of cameras which can be fitted to a cycling helmet or the handlebars of a bike since they featured in a recent documentary.
The increasing use of the technology is expected to lead to a rise in the number of offences being reported to the police. And the spike in sales came amidst a row between city cyclists and police over the official response to complaints about road incidents.
The Evening News first reported on the practice of cyclists filming their journeys in August 2011, when a cyclist who wished to remain anonymous told how he had begun filming drivers who endangered him and uploading the footage on to YouTube.
Euan MacDonald, assistant manager at the Edinburgh Bike Co-op, said sales of the devices had “skyrocketed” in the past few months.
The 24 year old added: “A lot of people use the GoPro for sports, but more and more have been coming in to buy them ever since the BBC showed cyclists in London using them to film incidents with aggressive motorists.”
However, with the most up- to-date models coming in at up to £300, not everyone can afford to splash out.
Richard Dowsett, 45, from Leith Cycle Co, said the cost of the cameras put them out of reach of most of his customers.
He said: “I do use one myself, though. I’ve got two children and I need to know that if anything happened to me they would be compensated. Plenty of customers have told me about them being hit by people in cars who have just driven away. When something like that happens, even if you’re lucky enough not to be seriously hurt, you’re so shocked you don’t always get the registration. But if you’ve got the camera, it’ll be on there. Also, you tend to find a driver who has hit you or cut you up will be less argumentative if you have a camera.”
The spike in camera sales emerged as a row broke out on Twitter between North Edinburgh police, Green councillor Maggie Chapman, University of Edinburgh rector Peter McColl and Kim Harding, the chairman of the new Edinburgh Festival of Cycling, over police responses to complaints made by cyclists.
The row began when North Edinburgh police tweeted asking motorists to be aware of cyclists on roundabouts after one of their officers was injured on the way to work, prompting angry responses from cyclists who felt their own complaints had been dismissed.
One of the respondents raised the case of Dave McCraw, 29, of Newington, who said his faith in the police was “shaken” after he was told there was nothing they could do about an incident where he was cut up by a driver using a mobile phone – despite him having it on film.
Dave, who works as a software engineer, said: “I was cycling through the New Town on my way home from work when a guy drove straight out in front of me through a give way line. When I pulled up next to his window he had his mobile in his hand. He just said he hadn’t seen me and asked me what my problem was. I couldn’t believe he could be so barefaced – he was actually waving his phone at me as he said it.”
Dave reported the incident to the police and was shocked at the response.
He said: “The woman I spoke to seemed completely uninterested. She didn’t even ask when the incident happened, just if I had any witnesses. I said no, but that I had it on film and she said unless there were witnesses or they caught the driver red-handed there was nothing they could do. She just said she would make a note of his registration in case he was involved in another incident. It seems ridiculous and it’s really shaken my faith in the police.”
Footage of the close shave has now been posted on YouTube.
Maggie Chapman, Green councillor for Leith Walk, said she had “given up” reporting incidents when she had been put in danger by motorists. “When I speak to the police as a councillor about aggressive drivers they say it is very high on their list of priorities, but in reality I feel there is very little evidence to show they take cyclist complaints seriously,” she said.
“I’ve been pushed over by drivers and verbally abused many times. I used to report these incidents but even when I did have a witness and a licence plate number I was told they weren’t going to pursue it.”
Chris Hill, who runs the City CyclingEdinburgh.info forum, said Cllr Chapman’s experiences would be “familiar to many cycle commuters”.
“Lothian and Borders Police often say, very publicly, that such incidents should be reported,” he said. “The reality is that there is a reluctance to accept or record details of incidents. Many people have been disappointed by poor police follow-up – even in quite serious cases.”
A spokesman for Police Scotland said that anyone not satisfied with the level of service they receive can make a complaint to the complaints and conduct department. He added: “Police Scotland is committed to keeping people safe when they travel on our roads and regularly carry out a variety of operations and campaigns to promote road safety and deter dangerous behaviour by those utilising the road network.
“We take any reports of improper driving or inappropriate driver behaviour extremely seriously and will investigate any incidents of this nature that are brought to our attention. Anyone who wishes to report such a matter should contact their local policing team.”
However, others argued that cyclists were as much at fault as motorists when it came to breaches of road safety.
Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “There are wrongdoers on two-wheels as well as four. Police, motorists and bike riders all have to take personal responsibility unless we are to find cameras becoming standard kit on helmets and dashboards alike.”
From surfboards to skydives from the edge of space
According to city retailers the most popular model of camera being used by cyclists is the GoPro. The make was first launched in 2005 and has since gone from strength to strength.
Billed as the “world’s most versatile camera” it is perhaps unsurprising that it can be adapted to the needs of many sports, with attachments for wrists, chests and heads. It also has the option of attachment using a suction cup and can even be mounted on surfboards.
Recently, five of the cameras went where no GoPro had ever gone before, joining Felix Baumgartner on his skydive from the edge of space.
Felix recorded the 24-mile fall using a camera positioned underneath his visor, and four others placed at various points on his body.
The cameras are also used in nature filming and have been used inside the mouths of animals such as alligators, sharks and polar bears.
Top of the range models can cost up to £400 but second hand cameras can be picked up on eBay for £150.
Helmet cams for cyclists are an interesting new development. The idea is that these small digital cameras record bad driving and support cyclists’ claims that they are the victims in accidents involving motorists.
The footage is taken at the time of the incident and therefore records who was where and what they were doing. At present this would not be sufficient by itself to prosecute someone but when taken together with other witness evidence could result in a driver being prosecuted.
In a civil case the video could be played back in the courtroom and questions could be posed to the driver about his actions. The cyclist would have to confirm it was his (or her) camera and to give their own evidence about what they were doing that day. It would also have to be proven the footage had not been edited.
Is it legal for cyclists to have helmet cams? They are recordings made in a public place, effectively for private use and so long as the camera is switched off when in a building there is no Data Protection issue.
Once you start speaking to someone on film, though, the camera might be a problem. People may not want to have a discussion recorded, and it will be a matter of judgement for the cyclist whether they want to turn the camera off to avoid inflaming a potentially volatile situation.”
‘I am abused daily on my bike’
The Twitter row began after an officer was involved in a collision with a car at Crewe Toll roundabout around 6.15am on Friday. He was taken to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary for treatment before being released.
Inquiries into the incident are ongoing and police are asking anyone with any information to come forward.
Edinburgh North Police: Officer injured cycling to work yesterday. Please always lookout for cyclists on roundabouts. Driver advice. http://bit.ly/mNEDMO
Cllr Maggie Chapman replied: It would help if police took driver aggression towards cyclists seriously. I am abused daily on my bike, but can do nothing.
Edinburgh North Police responded: We always take dangerous driving seriously. Please report it if you see it thanks.
Peter McColl, Rector of The University of Edinburgh got involved: I was spat at & driven at. Police refused to ask for witnesses. Message = Police don’t care about cyclists
Cycling Edinburgh then weighed into the debate, and included a link to a discussion on their forum about Dave McCraw’s experience: Police SAY they want things reported. Reality is different
Kim Harding, chair of the upcoming Edinburgh Festival of Cycling, added: This is why people are starting to carry video cameras to collect evidence . . .
Sara Dorman, who works at the University of Edinburgh added: But even w/evidence, we see Police refusing to act http://mccraw.co.uk/cycling-in-edinburgh-in-photos/ … @david_mccraw
Sara followed up with: then why when @david_mccraw rang 101 with video evidence did officer refuse to respond?
And finally, graphic designer John Stuart said: I reported dangerous driving. Have video from helmet cam. Police not interested.