Are Helmet Cameras 'Black Boxes' for Cyclists?

Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

Someday an Ubiquitous Technology?

Technology tends to make electronic gadgets cheap and ubiquitous over time. Now you don't even have to ask for it to get a camera in your cellphone or a webcam in your laptop. As I see more and more videos that were captured by helmet cameras, it makes me think that we're moving toward the day when these are much more common, almost a default feature integrated in helmets (after all, once the camera and a bit of flash memory to store the videos cost only a few bucks, why wouldn't this be offered as an option?). All these cameras could act as kind of 'black boxes', like on airplanes, to allow cyclists to prove what really happened when there's an accident or incident, with the added benefit that cyclists who know they are filming themselves will probably be more careful not to do stupid stuff.

Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Cameras like the one above are kind of clunky, but there's no reason why much smaller cameras couldn't be used. The video quality probably won't be optimal, but it should still be good enough (kind of like most phone cameras).

The New York Times has an interesting piece on this very topic, using the example of Evan Wilder, a cyclist who was hit by a pickup truck. The driver fled the scene, and Wilder couldn't catch the license plate. But his helmet camera did, and the driver was arrested.

Video from these cameras has begun to play an invaluable role in police investigations of a small number of hit-and-runs and other incidents around the country, local authorities say. Lawyers who specialize in representing bicyclists say they expect the use of cameras for this purpose to increase as awareness of the devices goes up and their prices, now starting at around $200, come down.

Some riders even argue that the technology will encourage cyclists to keep themselves in check during dust-ups with drivers.

“I know my actions before and after some event are going to be recorded if I’m the one being a jerk,” Mr. Wilder said. “It makes me want to be careful.”

Bicyclists say cameras can also deter motorist harassment, a problem that many complain about and that cities like Los Angeles and Berkeley, Calif., have sought to combat with new laws.

I wouldn't be in favor of a Big Brother approach to this, forcing cyclists and drivers to film their every move. To err is human, and if we're going to force people to live under such scrutiny, I propose that we run a 5-year pilot project with all politicians having to record their every move on the road... But even without forcing anyone to do anything, the benefits of these cameras are big enough that many will voluntarily use them, especially once they are less expensive. If they can help catch drivers who commit criminal acts and exonerate cyclists who did nothing wrong (or conversely, help catch bad cyclists), then that's a net positive.

It'll also have the advantage of providing us with more cool bike footage (see the three stories linked on the left of this page)!

Via NYT, Streetsblog

See also: Amazing Camera-on-Helmet Bike Videos from North Vancouver, British Columbia!

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