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HD Witness

Krista Carlson

Of all the uses that have been found for mountable cameras like the ever popular GoPro, the role these mountable cameras have played in bringing dangerous drivers to justice may be the most valuable. When helmet cams first hit the market they were tailored to extreme sports enthusiasts, made to capture the exploits of surfers and snowboarders, and of course cyclists were quick to adopt the technology for their own purposes.

At first the small cameras were being used to document recreational cycling activities: races, tours, social rides, downhill plunges; all the fun stuff. Somewhere along the way cyclists developed yet another use for the cameras they had mounted to their helmets and handlebars—as a vital witness

“The most important thing you can do after a crash is record the driver’s information and a helmet cam can do that for you,” says Boston bike attorney Josh Zisson.

Last year two Brazilian cyclists riding in Berkeley CA, were hit by a black car while climbing uphill. The driver, David Magliano, hit both cyclists and sped off, but footage from the camera mounted to one rider’s handlebars led to the driver’s identification and eventual arrest. Across the country in Washington, D.C., another motorist was caught on camera colliding with Evan Wilder on his way to work. Wilder never saw the driver, but his camera caught both the license plate number and the angry obscenities the driver of the pickup shouted before impact. The driver, John W. Diehl, was charged with leaving the scene of an accident.

Apart from being hit, cyclists face a barrage of harassment, hostility and dangerous behavior from motorists on a day-to-day basis. While safe passing and anti-harassment laws have been put in place at a growing pace—in 23 states and several cities with local laws—the enforcement of these laws has become another matter altogether.

“Vulnerable Road User Ordinance violations are very hard to observe and enforce outside a dedicated operation,” says Austin Police Commander Fred Fletcher. While the state of Texas may lack any sort of safe passing or anti-harassment laws, the city of Austin enacted its own safe passing law in 2009, and the Austin Police Department launched its own Safe Biking Initiative to enforce the law this year. The Safe Biking Initiative entails plainclothes officers on bikes equipped with GoPro cameras mounted to the handlebars. Other officers, watching nearby, pull over drivers who pass too closely.

“Only a couple [citations] had been issued in the entire city since 2009 before we started the initiative. That is actually the reason why we started this initiative,” says Commander Fletcher, who reports 139 citations and 4 arrests during the undercover sting.