On 7th October 2017 I ran my 68th consecutive live video broadcast on Twitter/Periscope as part of my ongoing #31DaysLive project… (yes.. I’ve sort of overrun on the 31 days bit a little)
The broadcast on Periscope has now had over 4200 views. You can watch a slightly reduced version below… otherwise read on.
Mobile cameras with ability to record are nothing new but over recent years the technology has made huge advancements in terms of size and cost.
The first traffic police car I ever drove that had in car video was in 1999. The camera was a huge piece of kit mounted inside the car, on the roof, near to the rear view mirror. It was huge and permanently fixed. I dread to think what injuries it would have caused if a driver or passengers head came into contact with it in the event of a collision. The recording facility was the height of sophistication. A VHS recorder fitted into the boot.
Time has moved on. The size of the cameras has reduced dramatically. The ability to record onto small portable memory and ever cheaper technology has put the dashcam within the reach of most people. There are, of course, varying standards and cost and you will always sacrifice quality, size and storage space for a cheaper price. In some cases they are now being fitted into new cars as standard or as an optional extra.
So will a dashcam be a game changer for road safety? Let’s think about a simple scenario.
You are alone driving along a straight stretch of A road. You are travelling at 50mph and up ahead you can see a bend. There are throw over arrows that lead to a solid white line system. Then in your rear view mirror you see a car and it’s coming up fast. You look ahead and realise the bend and the solid white lines are close. The car pulls out and flies past you but you are now in the solid white line zone and the other car is entering the bend on the wrong side of the lines. Suddenly a 14ton stone lorry is coming the other way. A collision between the other car and the truck is inevitable. You stamp on the brakes and the car in front cuts across your front, narrowly avoiding the truck and speeds off around the bend. As the sound of the trucks air horn fades into the distance you have just enough time to make a mental note of the cars registration.
Many of you reading this will have been in a similar situation. You’re furious. The driver of the car has put your life, their life and the truck drivers life at risk. It’s totally unacceptable.
You are so fired up and angry about this you call the police, report the driver to them and pass the registration number to them. You want this driver to be spoken to before they kill someone.
In times gone by, (and maybe some forces still do it) the police would have taken this information and dutifully gone to see the driver of the other car. The officer attending knows the matter will not go anywhere but maybe some time spent invested with this driver will save lives or change their behaviour. There is no doubt that this is a possible positive outcome.
What happens though is the driver claims not to know what the police officer is talking about. The driver states he made a perfectly sensible overtake. In fact if anything the other car saw him making the overtake and deliberately speeded up.
The officer then spends 20-30 minutes on the phone to you explaining that the other drivers account conflicts with yours and why no action can be taken. The officer listens to how angry you are, sympathises with the situation and wonders about whether they will get a break today.
Overall this job has eaten into a lot of police time but for what outcome? Nothing.
For some time now I have been refusing to deploy officers to such incidents and just explained from the start that we cannot prove the offence and the evidence provided by the witness is uncorroborated. The phone call is much the same and you are still angry.. probably more angry because the police are doing nothing.. but in the long run it allows officers to focus on more pressing matters.
Now roll in the dashcam. This is where they become a game changer. Imagine the above scenario but then consider that you have a dashcam recording everything ahead of you. It captures the road, the conditions, the road markings, the car making it’s dangerous overtake and how close that truck actually was. Conveniently it also records the registration plate of the offending vehicle. All good and your verbal account is now corroborated by video evidence.
So why when you ring up the police is the outcome the same.. no action? Historically that has often been the case. This is essentially because forces around the country have not been prepared, able or willing to accept video evidence from members of the public. This has always been a bit of an issue for me within policing. We accept CCTV from shops and the motorway cameras. We accept CCTV from peoples homes if it helps prove or assist in the prosecution of an offence. We have even taken footage from cameras in similar circumstances. As an example, Cheshire Police secured a conviction against this motorcyclist using footage the rider himself had recorded and then posted to YouTube!
On a trip to Bournemouth with @constablechaos I used my phone to record a driver in lane one of the M40 using his mobile phone. A phone call to Thames Valley Police led to me providing a statement and sending them the video evidence. The driver admitted the offence and was sent on a course.
Dashcams are also being installed by businesses to protect them from false claims. We also know from the Tomasz Kroker case that they can also be used to prosecute the driver they are there to protect.
Many people have spoken to me on this topic and explained that they have found it very hard to get forces to accept their footage. There could be a whole combination of reasons for this and not solely restricted to staff to review, storage capabilities and administration.
This is slowly but surely changing though. As more drivers obtain dashcams the requests to submit footage have increased. Footage from trucks, cars and cyclists are all being put forward and offered as evidence and forces are getting better at accepting it. North Wales Police were the trailblazers in this area with Operation Snap My own force have now also opened up a portal for dashcam submissions. At the recent TISPOL conference the head of road policing in Cheshire reported on the success of this and 20-30 prosecutions a week.
I am sure that other forces will soon follow these leads and do likewise. However, CC Anthony Bangham (West Mercia Police and NPCC Roads Policing Lead) said at the same conference that he was exploring the possibility of a national platform for dashcam submissions. He also talked of “Professional Guardians”. Utilising trusted road safety professionals to provide footage they capture from their trucks, coaches and public service vehicles. There are some criticisms of this idea but I believe there is no reason why it cannot work if it is set up, resourced and staffed correctly.
The dashcam is only going to become more important to us in a road safety capacity. Drivers of cars now need to consider their actions and think carefully about the very real possibility that their driving is being recorded. Would the driver have made that overtake if you had been a police car? Of course not. With the proliferation of dashcams maybe it is time for drivers to start looking at every other car on the road and consider it to be a police car.