A New York Times article comparing bicyclists’ helmet cameras to black boxes in airplanes has sparked much dialogue in the transportation community. Some predict that as these gadgets – now available for around $200 – get cheaper, they will become a common item on bicyclists’ helmets and handlebars just like lights and other safety devices.
While initially targeted at snowboarders, kayakers, skydivers, downhill mountain bikers and anyone else looking to document their ‘extreme hobbies’, helmet cameras are becoming a trending item among bicycle commuters. These cameras aren’t used to provide a two-wheeled point-of-view of our beautiful city but rather, to capture evidence.
“I bought [my helmet cam] because I like gadgets and I thought I might use it on the ski slopes but it evolved into a safety device,” said David Behroozi, who wears his Contour HD camera five days a week. “They are great to use as a black box for evidence.”
Last year, Behroozi’s video of an collision in South lake Union went viral. In the video, we witness a driver running a red light on Valley Street in South lake Union and hitting a cyclist who’s crossing the street at that moment.
“In an accident scenario, everything happens so quickly. You often don’t have time catch all of the details. Getting a license plate is something I always forget to do and even if I make a mental note of it, I can’t remember it for long. With the camera, I have all of the context; the time, the license plate, the lighting conditions, the surroundings, whether someone was using a cell phone, etc,” explained Behroozi.
Behroozi has been riding with a camera since April of last year and says he rarely reviews his footage unless there was an incident such as a near-miss or someone throwing something at him.
“I personally believe cycling in Seattle is safe and fun and don’t feel insecure riding without a camera, but it’s so easy to use I might as well ride with it,” he said. “I dump the memory every two weeks and charge the battery every 4-5 rides and just let it roll when I ride on the streets.”
Rebecca Roush, Bicycle Program Coordinator for Sound Transit, only recently purchased a camera stating she wanted to start documenting all the “crazy stuff” she encounters while bike commuting from her Greenwood home to downtown every day.
“I think cameras serve as a protection for cyclists. It has certainly done that for me. I have read enough stories of cyclists involved in accidents who didn’t have proof. Cameras protect them in those situations,” said Roush.
During one of her recent early morning commute, Roush captured an incident in which Metro bus driver cuts her off, forcing her out of the bike lane and up a curb onto the sidewalk.
“I used that video to file a complaint,” she said.
And it’s not just the motorized vehicles helmet cam wearers watch out for.
Roush said the camera serves as a tool to see how other bicyclists behave. Additionally, Roush said when people notice the camera, it serves as a reminder for everyone to be more considerate, knowing they are on film.
“They are useful for de-escalation of confrontations, and I ride much safer myself, not only because I know I’m on film, but because from reviewing near-miss footage, I know what to look for and proactively avoid it,” agreed Behroozi.
Roush’s other reason behind wearing a helmet cam is to share a woman bicyclist’s perspective.
“There are fewer women bicycling because they don’t feel safe. I know men who also don’t feel particularly safe but safety seems to be more of a deterrent for women,” she said.
Roush recently launched a blog to share what women experience when they pedal – on the roads or out on the trails.
“Ultimately, I’d like to show that there are women out there riding and get more women bicycling,” she said.
Do you ride with a camera? If so, what’s the most interesting thing you’ve recorded?