Most people detest the idea of the “Big Brother” type society, always being watched, monitored and effectively having your natural behaviour and reactions manipulated by the presence of the all-seeing eyes that we all have become oblivious to, that’s right cameras. But why is it then that sales of vehicle born cameras are at an all-time high. Those same people who in one breath will condemn an intrusion into their privacy at one level will be more than happy to strap a sports style action camera to the front of their bike or cycle helmet, and motorists will eagerly stick a “dashcam” into their car. Some will say it is for their own protection, it’s a safeguard, others will be accused of being “wanna be traffic cops”, and lastly some have to, they have no choice, fleet and company policies will dictate the use of a camera.
We’ve been promising this one for a while, but such is the amount of interest in this subject I felt it only right that we wait, and knowing that the West Midlands Police was going to introduce a new way of “self-reporting” due care and attention type road traffic offences, I wanted a couple of test cases to show exactly what can go right and wrong. But more importantly I wanted to experience the use of cameras and their effectiveness in reporting and prosecuting road traffic offences from a member of the public’s viewpoint. You see even though as a traffic officer I drive a car that has its every move and sound recorded from the moment I get in to the moment I hang up the keys and go home, I have never had any interest in having that same security, or is it scrutiny?, in my social, domestic and pleasure road going experiences.
So to do it properly early this year I purchased a high definition camera that has been accompanying me on all my cycling adventures and commutes. Prior to this I have never felt it necessary to have a camera, whether that’s because our day to day experiences as traffic officers make us immune to the fears and worries others have when using the roads, or maybe it’s because our enhanced road sense and occupationally trained defensive style of road use results in us experiencing far less moments of worry than other road users. Which ever it was the results have been interesting and not what you may expect. In 5 months of riding with a camera, day in, day out I have only been involved in one incident that I have considered worthy of reporting. I don’t for a minute think this is the “norm” though, looking at the experiences of other “vulnerable” road users I know it must be because of my defensive riding style and my abnormal perception of what others might rate as a “reportable incident”, which is altered greatly by my day to day experiences as a traffic officer. After all, I’ve become accustomed to being rammed and driven at regularly, so witnessing a blatant offence, a close pass or having to take avoiding action due to a driver’s ill discipline just counts as a little unwanted attention to me, I’m not saying this is right, it’s just the way I’ve been conditioned through 16 years of being a police officer. You could say I save my reporting efforts for when the uniform is on.
As well as the obvious cameras on our traffic cars you’d be surprised at just how many road going cameras are out there at the moment. Some ambulances and fire service vehicles carry cameras, as well as the cyclist’s and motorcyclists who have a camera on their helmets or bike, sometimes both front and rear facing. Increasing numbers of private motorists are fitting dashcams, you can even get them incorporated into your sat nav now. Lots of HGV’s have camera’s in the cab, most buses have cameras as do some taxi’s. It’s not improbable to foresee a time when road users without a recording device will be in the minority, after all the technology is now cheap, reliable and readily accessible. Won’t be long before a vehicle manufacturer offers camera’s as an optional extra on all its models, just wait and see.
It’s not all a bed of roses….
It really isn’t a bed of roses you know, in fact camera use can be a proverbial crown of thorns. Camera’s capture all the good and all the bad in all road users, including the camera carrier. They can work against you as well as for you, take it from someone who is recorded and scrutinised in everything I do on the road whilst at work. So just to start we’ll run through some of the positives and negatives of using your own recording device on the road.
The obvious benefit is in the event of a collision, it can show the reason for the collision and liability. But this could work in favour of the both the camera user and the non-camera user. Footage might show the camera user was liable for the collision, if someone see’s you have a camera and you don’t make the footage available questions will be asked, liability assumed, what is the camera user hiding ?, integrity and honesty questioned, are you starting to see the pitfalls already.
The footage of an incident is all well and good but when presenting camera evidence you will need to also show the period prior and post incident. This reveals or dismisses any events or alleged events that may lead to an incident. The standard of your driving or riding prior to an incident will be looked at, your demeanour prior and post incident will be scrutinised, everything about you will be questioned. Footage from a dashcam that reveals blaring in vehicle music, a mobile phone conversation, or the road user displaying an aggressive demeanour using language littered with profanities all paints a picture and will affect both liability, prosecution and court decisions. So if you’re running a camera, its best behaviour at all times.
One of the less obvious effects of an easily spotted camera is the way other road users start interacting with you. When I cycle with a camera on top of my helmet, which stands out, it is amazing how better vehicles start interacting with you on the road, passes become more considered, more space is given, I’ve got into the habit of almost turning my head to a side profile to display the fact I have a camera to traffic to the traffic approaching from the rear, the difference is significant. Put the camera on the handle bars where it is less obvious and traffic from the rear can’t see it and we’re back to the usual ill-considered passing. Maybe someone should start making cycling clothing with “Camera on Board” emblazoned across it and providing stickers for vehicles with the same message. The psychological and behavioural effect on road users if they realise they are being recorded and it can be used against them if their road use falls below the expected safe and competent standard is significant. Maybe we should make them compulsory,……hhmmmm anyone thinking George Orwells 1984 yet?
Don’t change your behaviour if you use a camera. Don’t go looking for incidents or those committing offences. If this is the adventure that you do seek then consider joining the police instead, dealing with those who’s road use falls below the required standard is highly confrontational. Road rage is common and in the most unfortunate of cases people have lost their lives at the side of a road in altercations that commenced following a minor traffic incident. I’ve often said that aside from domestic incidents, when we go into someone’s home and start taking control, I’ve never seen an average person anger so quickly and become so confrontational with the police as when their standard of driving or riding is criticised, often despite the presence of insurmountable evidence proving their road use was sub-standard. This is because of firstly, the impact of any prosecution is often highly significant on their day to day lives, points will effect insurance, employment, fines are high and costly, and secondly it’s also because most road users take it as a personal infringement on their character, mainly due to the fact that most have never stopped and considered the standard of their own riding or driving. If an incident does occur and you capture it on camera, stay calm, do not interact with the offender, and remember you’re being recorded also by your camera. There will be a few that submit evidence of a minor traffic offence being committed which then goes on to show themselves committing a far more serious public order offence. Own goals are common in such situations, the offending road user ends up with an educational course or points, the reporting camera user ends up with a criminal record !.
The reporting process and its inevitable consequences
So you’ve got your camera, you’ve completed your journey during which you’ve been unfortunate to be involved in or witness an incident that you feel needs reporting and action being taken against the offending road user. What do you do next?
Well if the incident was a collision and the police did not attend as it was a non-injury damage only collision, then you will need to report in the West Midlands Police area by way of a self-reporting form available from any Police Station front office or by calling 101. The report is completed by you and returned with the all important video, it goes to our traffic process offence and they will investigate the collision and deal with any resulting prosecutions.
If the incident does not involve a collision and it is a “Due care and attention” type offence you wish to report then again it’s a trip to your nearest Police Station or call 101, only this time it’s the “Due Care / Driving Standards” self reporting form you will require. Again, the report is completed by you and returned with the all important video, it goes to our traffic process offence and they will investigate the incident and deal with any resulting prosecutions.
With both submissions remember independent witnesses are just as important as quality video coverage. Video won’t show everything, trust me we have seen the best video footage miss vital evidence due to a fixed focus and direction, helmet cams usually don’t suffer from these deficiencies but dash cams and fixed point cameras on bikes will.
Once your report is submitted the wheels of justice start turning, but please be aware they can turn very slowly due to necessary legal process and the usual administrative holdups that all prosecutions encounter. You see once your report is submitted the member of WMP staff dealing must send out a Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP) to the vehicles keeper requesting driver details at the time of the incident. This must be done within 14 days of the incident. The recipient of the NIP then has 28 days to respond. If the keeper states someone else was driving then another NIP is sent to that person, with another 28 days to respond. Already you see you could have a maximum of 70 days before we are even in a position to commence a prosecution. The wheels can turn slowly and if your incident results in a court case this can be sometimes be up to 12 months after the actual incident. So don’t go expecting instant results, there are no such things as instant results when it comes to road traffic law.
What should I report?
Firstly only report if you are prepared to attend court. The offender in your incident may settle for an educational type resolution or a conditional offer of points and a fine, but as we know all too well, most will defend their licences with the same tenacity as their family’s wellbeing, so always expect to attend court. To attend court you may need to take time off work, at court you can be cross examined by the defendant or their legal representative and enjoy all the same experiences we as traffic officers endure on a weekly basis.
The rule here is the offending road users standard of driving or riding must have fallen below that expected of a safe and competent driver or rider. To put it in simple terms we are looking at single standalone incidents that would cause you to fail a driving test. Examples of this are contravening a give way at a junction, running a red light, mobile phone use, a close pass (by close we mean inches not feet), you get the idea.
Examples we have recently prosecuted using camera footage include a cyclist who was forced to come to a stop to avoid a HGV that failed to give way at a traffic island, if the cyclist hadn’t stopped the results would have been unthinkable. Also a vehicle that carried out an overtake that contravened a keep left bollard and as a result nearly hit the reporting driver head on. These are the sorts of incident we want to know about and if the evidence is presented will gladly deal with the offender.
We will only proceed if there is a realistic probability of a successful prosecution, a prosecution that must be in the public interest. If I tell you that two traffic officers with accompanying in car video can struggle to convince a court of an offending drivers offending you will start to get an idea of how convincing your self-reported incident and accompanying evidence will need to be.
Last but not least if you are going to report an incident don’t post the footage on any social media site or the like until any proceedings have been finalised. Such clips bring with them views and comments, all might effect proceedings or prevent them. So if you feel you must share it with the Social Media masses prior to a court, take your 15 minutes of fame but reconsider reporting it to ourselves as you could jeopardise any prosecution before it has even started.
A New Dawn
Now after reading this you might think why even bother, well despite the popular misconception that we are not interested in these incidents, we truly are. The standards of road use are important to you and so they are important to us. We know how low the standards of road use can drop, we are out there 24/7 combatting the most dangerous. But we also know that we can’t be everywhere at once, some will always get away with it. But if the ever increasing amount of road going cameras means that those that previously got away with it will now see the their law breaking actions answered for, then it can only be a good thing.
This is a new work stream for WMP, its new and developing, so please bear with us. We need a shift in the viewpoint of the masses to one where road traffic offending and its sometimes tragic consequences become socially unacceptable. If the growing trend of those with road going camera’s reporting offending becomes part of that, then we welcome it with open arms, please just stay safe and don’t become disillusioned if you don’t get the result you wanted when reporting or at court.
Oh and also please realise this article has mentioned new and developing WMP policy and procedures regarding the public reporting road traffic offending and the submission of camera evidence in support. Your local force may not do the same, please be patient with them, due to the administrative and staff commitments such new work streams demand, some may struggle to keep pace with demand for a like approach given the current resource vs demand equation faced by police forces. One day hopefully it will be the accepted norm.
Until next time
Safe journey’s all………..”CUT…. its a wrap”