Editor's Note: RoadBikeReview contributor Megan Hottman is a recognized legal expert on cycling laws and advocate in the cycling community. She provides bike law education clinics and classes to cyclists, local bike clubs, and to law enforcement personnel in the state of Colorado. This post originally appeared on www.hottmanlawoffice.com.
I recently got the following note:
"Megan, we met several times at different lectures. It's always reassuring to know you have cyclists back. My question is more for my information and if ever needed your benefit.
Concerning riding with a GoPro. If I have only one camera to use while riding which mounting do you find most useful in court - 1) back view of the bike from the seat post, 2) front view of the bike on the handle bars, or 3) front view of the bike on the rider's helmet?
Also, I'm wondering if you have any feedback on having the camera on the back - will motorists see it there and tend to think twice before passing the rider?
In this day and age I don't believe you can have enough leverage in a dispute.
Thanks for your time - I hope to never need your services. Sounds weird."
Great questions. Let's discuss the placement of the camera if a rider only has one, and cannot place both a front-racing and rear-facing camera. (Because yes, two cameras can be quite expensive).
There is no truly right or wrong answer to this question, it's more a strategic decision by the rider. Based on our firm's caseload over the years, the vast majority of cases we handle are of three types (which also jive with the state and national bike crash stats):
- Motorist makes left turn directly in front of/into the oncoming cyclist (failure to yield on left turn)
- Motorist makes right turn from a position parallel to the cyclist, either into the bike or directly in front of the cyclist (right hook)
- Motorist strikes cyclist from behind/side swipes cyclist from behind (does not allow proper passing distance/3 feet/fails to see cyclist at all/impaired/distracted driving)
Based on our specific experiences and the facts of our clients' collisions, I would say the injuries caused to the cyclists struck from behind or are side-swiped, tend to be the most severe. (Not always mind you, but in general, because the motorist is typically at speed at the time of the collision).
Therefore, I would recommend if a cyclist has only one camera, to mount it backwards-facing. This also increases the chances of a good shot of the car, license plate, and most importantly -the face of the driver. Camera footage does not provide the cyclist means of recourse if the driver cannot be identified. It is critical that wherever the camera is mounted, and whatever camera the cyclist chooses, that the footage or images be clear enough to show the person behind the wheel of the car. Otherwise law enforcement often cannot use the video to file charges- as the car owner can claim someone else was driving my car.
I do believe that motorists who see a camera on the bike behave differently/better than in instances where there is no camera (this is based purely on my own observations while riding with a GoPro camera). Any time a motorist may realize they will be held accountable for their actions, it logically follows that they think twice before behaving badly.
Additionally, consider that often times the cyclist is able to whip out their cell phone to capture forward-facing or still shots. Many cyclists now ride with their smartphone mounted to their bars, or I think it's safe to say all cyclists have a smartphone in their back pocket or bag. Capturing rear-facing footage on the fly is nearly impossible, however.
A camera we like for rear-facing footage with a light, is the Cycliq Rear Bike Camera with light. Check out also, the Garmin Varia, which alerts cars approaching from behind of the presence of the bike and also tells the cyclist the speed/relative threat of the approaching car by syncing with the rider's bike computer.
A third product we recently learned about, which promises to eventually include turn signal options for a rider who is using a smartphone, is Cobi. (It won't surprise us if this very soon includes recording/camera options also).
And of course the tried-and-true brand, GoPro, offers many bike camera options and its app is user-friendly and the entire system is easy to setup and to use!
In general though, any footage is better than none, and any data is better than no data. Often times video footage combined with Garmin or Strava/similar data, can really help a cyclist who was riding lawfully and is struck by a vehicle.