I apologize if you clicked on the headline expecting a typical clickbait scenario, wherein the stated question leads to an article that doesn’t even address the question, or exists only to rev up outrage that the matter at hand doesn’t necessarily warrant. Because of that widespread nonsense, we rarely use question marks in headlines and (almost) never engage in bullshit clicksturbation tactics—but in this case, the question posed by the title is the topic.

Let me explain.

Last week, thanks to an intro from my pal Uwe, I spent over an hour on the phone with Craig Davis, founder of CyclistVideoEvidence.com, a website created “to empower cyclists with the tools they need to bring transparency and accountability to our legal system.” Cyclists can upload video files to the free “Incident Management System” and search for repeat offenders (assuming the license plate is captured). This hypothetically inherently objective video evidence is used to “establish potential patterns of dangerous driver behavior and generate near miss data to map dangerous locations.”

This was interesting to me for two reasons.

First, years ago, I’d come up with a product concept and done some initial research and revenue modeling for a distributed video collection system which I’ll call The All-Seeing Eyes of CityBike for the purpose of this discussion. There would have been two parts to this system: end user hardware modeled on consumer action cameras of the time—I preferred the form factor of the Contour devices—and (of course) cloud services.

To the Cloud!

Users—motorcyclists, cyclists, potentially drivers as well—would run always-on, looping TASE-CB cameras, and if they observed a violation, for example, another vehicle running a red light, they’d hit a button that would save and lock the previous couple of minutes of footage and some period thereafter, for later upload (to the cloud!) when the camera was connected to a computer. That upload could hypothetically be done wirelessly via a Bluetooth connection to a smartphone, which would simply upload later if a connection wasn’t available at the time, but that part doesn’t really matter.

TASE-CB would contract with law enforcement agencies (revenue generation, yo!), who’d have access to incident footage and information for their jurisdictions and could therefore write tickets based on the footage from what would essentially be an incentivized army of roving red light cameras. TASE-CB users would be paid a bounty based on successful convictions, and the increased likelihood of financial penalties for shitty behavior in a TASE-CB jurisdiction would help improve safety for all road users.

You’re groaning at this point, I’m sure, and that’s why I didn’t go any further with the idea. I’m sure law enforcement agencies would have peed their standard issue patrol pants with glee at the idea of a ticket-writing affiliate program, and I probably could have made millions before selling the company and retiring to a life of gold toilets and early morning Twitter rants. But there are all kinds of problems with red light and speed cameras, and more importantly, I didn’t want to be that fucking guy, the dude responsible for turning citizens against each other in the name of a few bucks safety. Ultimately, contributing to the ever-expanding surveillance culture seemed likely to be a bigger evil than any potential good to be achieved by TASE-CB.

Turns out, the program probably wouldn’t even have needed to pay a bounty. Today, there are virtual mountains of video data captured by attention-hungry motorcyclists alone, imagined offenses thoughtfully captioned with lines like “Asshole cager!”

Anyway, the second reason my call with Craig was interesting is that there are an awful lot of parallels between motorcyclists and cyclists, many of which can be summed up with three words: “vulnerable road users.” Many riders are also riders, err… many motorcyclists are also bicyclists, or vice versa, if you prefer.

Realizing this, Craig has started looking at expanding Cyclist Video Evidence to include motorcyclists.

Those Cycling Safety Wins I Mentioned

The CVE website isn’t the circle jerk of meaningless uploads you might imagine based on my commentary about the quality of motorcyclist-captured video—the organization, which offers video deconstruction and other services for cyclists, has achieved some success in actual prosecution of assault charges based on video evidence, beginning with the “Glendale Incident.” Some Audi-driving snapperhead by the name of Dennis Reed was charged with two counts of misdemeanor assault for a so-called near miss incident: said snapperhead swerved in front of two cyclists and slammed on his brakes. According to the CyclistVideoEvidence website: “Glendale Police initially refused the cyclist’s incident report because there was no collision.” But… “Assault and reckless driving do not require a collision.”

 

You can watch the video evidence from the Glendale Incident here.

In other cases, like this one in Castro Valley in September 2014, a citation was written, but ultimately rescinded by the California Highway Patrol. However, according to CVE, this case ultimately led to the CHP admitting they do not have to view such violations firsthand, which the organization claims sets a precedent that “all California law enforcement can accept cyclist video evidence to cite egregious drivers for assault and reckless driving without a collision.”

Throwing Technology at the Problem

As a lifelong moto-commuter, I’ve followed some riders’ dedication to technological solutions closely, and have at times ridden with a camera myself, even experimented with permanent-mount, always-on moto-dashcam systems such as the Innovv C3 that Max reviewed back in 2015. I understand why some motorcyclists, especially commuters, won’t ride without a camera running, but recording all the time never became part of my routine: it’s another thing to do before rolling out, and frankly feels a little too paranoid for me.

The lack of motorcycle-specific systems that aren’t just differently-shaped variations on the GoPro theme certainly hasn’t helped nudge me toward becoming a one-man evidence-collecting machine, although Innovv’s K2 Dual Channel Motocam gets pretty close. The K2 comes with two cameras that record wide-angle 30 FPS 1080P video to a waterproof DVR for an ideal front-and-rear setup, and also offers a “parking mode” that keeps an eye on things while you’re away. It’s intended to be hard-wired to your bike so its looping recording function can begin recording when you fire up the bike.

If you’re looking for other options, there aren’t many, certainly not from the major action camera players. Search Revzilla for dashcam and you get redirected (searchandising!) to search results for a closeout product called “WASPcam,” which seems to be nothing more than a typical action camera with looping recording, apparently marketed to white people. Search CycleGear for the same query, and the results are even less helpful—at least if you’re looking for a camera of some sort. But over on Amazon, a search for “motorcycle dashcam” gets you more actual options, although other than Innovv they’re all from unfamiliar brands, and Innovv isn’t exactly Sony, Garmin or GoPro—although their K2 uses a Sony sensor. A company called BlueSkySea offers their DV688 motorcycle dashcam for $185.99, and another called HaloCam has a similar dual-camera, remote DVR setup for $179.89.

Recent developments in the cycling world have piqued my interest a little more, even if they’re not directly transferrable. An Australian company called Cycliq makes light+camera devices with features that set a standard well above the limited offerings for motorcycles. Both their Fly6 CE taillight  (got your six!) and Fly12 CE headlight combine lighting and video recording into compact form factors that offer an impressive feature set: 135-degree wide angle video at 60 FPS or 30 FPS, 6-axis electronic image stabilization, “black box” incident protection, bike alarm, ANT+ and Bluetooth, Strava integration, USB-C fast charging, and of course water resistance and looping video.

If a Cycliq device’s accelerometer “detects the rider has been involved in an incident” the black box incident protection “automatically locks and preserves the footage.” According to Cycliq, this kicks in when the device is tilted more than 60 degrees from the vertical for more than five seconds—the unit locks the current and immediately preceding video segment and shuts down the device after 30 minutes to ensure the footage isn’t overwritten by looping.

Pretty cool stuff.

Whattya Think?

So back to the question that started this whole thing: as a motorcyclist, what do you think of all this? Does CyclistVideoEvidence’s potential moto-centric program interest you? Have you ever successfully used video evidence after a crash or other incident? Do “smarter” cameras sound better?

The comments section below beckons, awaiting your insights.

7 Responses

  1. John

    I can tell you right off the bat that I’d prefer there was less mass surveillance going on in our country. I don’t appreciate the prospect of being shadowed, physically or electronically, from the moment I walk out my front door until I return home again. (And probably while I’m home too.)

    For the better part of a century, as far as I understand it, this kind of oppressive surveillance was the fuel for a lot of lawsuits against the government (because a hundred years ago, who else could afford around-the-clock monitoring?). This kind of monitoring by the government was carefully regulated, and generally only permitted on persons suspected of having committed or intending to commit crimes.

    Now, we have miniature cameras and audio recording devices available for a couple hundred bucks that was unimaginable even twenty years ago. These devices can capture our actions and commit them to permanent digital archives, and storage of these archives is hardly a problem either, as it gets cheaper every year to store whole terabytes of data. There is no forgetting in our modern digital world. With this, it seems that there can be no forgiveness either. Sure, that Audi driver sure looks like an a*hole and probably deserves a hefty dose of criminal justice. But what about when that punishment has been served? In this interconnected world, where can that guy go that he would not be quickly identified and his actions immediately shoved in his face again?

    I am not a fan of where this is going. Not sure citizen-on-citizen surveillance of the kind you’re describing will make our world a better place, despite the promised “safety” it may bring.

    Reply
    • CVE

      Thanks Surj for this article.

      Our mission is to increase the number of cyclists by giving them the confidence to ride on the roads. The number one reason the cycling population has precipitously declined since its peak in 1995 is the fear of riding on the roads.

      As Surj pointed out, we have secured legal precedents using cyclists’ video evidence to successfully charge and prosecute drivers for assault, which we define as a criminal near miss. Until recently law enforcement refused cyclists’ criminal near miss incident reports if there wasn’t a collision, or if they didn’t personally witness every incident. The Audi incident report was initially rejected because there wasn’t a collision. Requiring a collision to report a criminal near miss incident, or requiring that police witness every incident, is ridiculous. It took us five years to get law enforcement and the legal system to publicy state, during our first town hall on 6/14/18, that they want cyclists to submit all criminal near miss incident reports using cyclist video evidence. Cyclists, and motorcyclists, can leverage our precendents if law enforcement ever refuses to charge drivers for a criminal near miss incident using video evidence.

      John asked “But what about when that punishment has been served?” The Audi driver received a $300 fine and 50 hours of community service. Once completed his conviction was dismissed and his record expunged upon the request of his attorney. That means the legal system officially deleted this incident from its memory. What if this driver continues assaulting cyclists, or worse? How would cyclists know that he is a repeat offender? Cyclists cannot search law enforcement’s systems, and even if they could, this incident was expunged. This is why we created our free Incident Management System (IMS); so cyclists can always submit all of their near miss incident reports and search for repeat offenders – before collisions occur.

      We are staunch privacy advocates. Cyclists have to register on our site to access the IMS and they can only search by license plate number and state. If they have a near miss incident with the same vehicle they can learn that it is a repeat offender, and establish a pattern of behavior, to educate the driver if the near miss incidents are not criminal, or prosecute if they are criminal. This prevents collisions and empowers cyclists in their own enlightend self preservation. This gives cyclists the confidence that someone is always watching their back, and front, if they have two cameras.

      Criminal near miss incidents are only one type of near misses. Non-criminal near miss incident reports can provide objective dangerous location insights and data, i.e. video, for traffic planners to design safer roads for all road users. It can also help law enforcement provide non-punitive education for drivers – before collisions occur. We helped CHP create a hand signed 3 foot warning letter that they send to drivers if a cyclist reports that they were “buzzed” by a driver.

      The number one reason cyclists stop cycling are near misses and perceived risk, not collisions. The only way we can increase the number of cyclists is by giving them the confidence to ride on the roads. We hope our IMS empowers cyclists in their own enlightened self preservation.

      Thanks again Surj!

      http://www.CyclistVideoEvidence.com

      Reply
      • Surj Gish

        @disqus_Vqvt09Bk8i:disqus – thanks, and thanks for chiming in with more details. One of the most important points here is that cyclists aren’t just streaming their entire files up to CyclistVideoEvidence—they only submit something when something has happened. A lot of riders of both motor- and people-powered cycles are running cameras all the time anyway, so it makes sense to use those files when there’s an incident.

      • CVE

        The other important detail is that most motor vehicle – cyclist incidents last less than 5 seconds and that is often the length of video cyclists share to document their near miss incidents. One of the biggest barriers has been that human perception is not able to process the entire context of the 5 terrifying seconds at normal video speed so these incidents have historically been dismissed as cyclists overreacting. We developed a technique to hyper-expand those seconds so everyone can easily absorb the entire context of the incident to get a bit closer to viscerally experiencing the terror that caused the cyclists in the Audi criminal near miss incident to take the time to go to the police station and submit an incident report, which as I said was initially rejected because there wasn’t a collision. We call the technique time-slicing and you can see it in the Glendale California Audi criminal near miss incident video linked in this article.

        Closely analyzing the few seconds in which an incident occurs is the complete opposite of “oppressive” “citizen-on-citizen surveillance.” We are staunch privacy advocates which is fully compatible with empowering cyclists to share the terror in the few seconds in which near miss incidents occur. Near misses like this Audi incident are the number one reason cyclists stop cycling and potential cyclists who see such incidents justifiably refuse to start cycling. Our mission is to increase the number of cyclists, and motorcyclists, by creating safe respectfully shared streets which we hope will give cyclists the confidence to ride on the roads.

      • Eric

        Excellent article, and thank you to CVE for the valuable insights in the above comment. Car (and especially where I live, SUV) drivers are in serious need of significant behavior modification, before it’s too late.

    • Surj Gish

      @Wacarider:disqus, thanks for your lengthy comment. As noted in my comment to Craig from CVE, who stopped by with more background on CyclistVideoEvidence.com, many motorcyclists and cyclists are running cameras all the time anyway—why not use that information when something goes wrong?

      I have zero issues with holding people like Dennis Reed responsible for their actions. As Craig said, he got off easy—but even if he hadn’t, why shouldn’t his criminal behavior affect his life the way it does for every other convicted criminal? For example, if a potential employer runs a criminal background check, it’s because they want to know if their potential employee is potentially a violent nutjob. Assault isn’t dumb photos posted on Facebook, it’s serious, and it shouldn’t be forgotten.

      As for where he can go, I think you’re overestimating the day-to-day effects of minor internet infamy. Never mind the lack of actual penalties—I doubt Mr. Reed is being shamed at his local grocery store or coffee shop for his actions.

      Reply
  2. emmertaronson

    Thanks for the article, Surj. As a biker of both types, I’m glad to see this kind of partnership between us. Also very grateful that we’ve got a way to organize these experiences that’s more data driven than “one more story.” Thanks to you for publicizing and CVE for the good work!

    Reply

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