Safety: How Dash Cameras Can Help Cases
By Kyle Smith
On June 2, 2010, Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was one batter away from throwing a perfect game and achieving one of baseball’s most coveted accolades. On the next pitch, the batter bounced a grounder to first base. It was easily fielded and tossed to Galarraga as he raced to cover the bag, reaching the base a full stride ahead of the runner. He had thrown a perfect game. Only he hadn’t.
Umpire Jim Joyce called the runner safe at first. As the instant replay looped on the jumbotron, the stadium full of fans began to lose its collective mind. What was obvious to anyone watching the instant replay — the runner was clearly out — was not clear to an umpire making a split-second decision based on limited information.
Humans make mistakes, but the camera doesn’t lie. This phenomenon is true in sports as in litigation, and with the prevalence of smartphones, dashcams, and doorbell cameras there has never been more video evidence available in auto v. bike collision cases. Like a perfect game stolen through a bad call, victims of bicycle collisions can often be erroneously blamed for the mistakes of a distracted driver. Fortunately, California courts, unlike the MLB in 2010, do allow for instant replay. A dash camera can turn a vehicle strike into a homerun of a case.
Go to the instant replay
Dash cameras have been legal in California since 2011 with some restrictions. The dashcam must not obscure a driver’s view, be placed in front of an airbag, or record passengers without consent — not an issue for any bike I’ve personally seen, but good to know.
For cyclists, a dash camera — perhaps I should say handlebar camera — can provide video of evidence of a driver’s bad behavior and be turned over to police in the event of a collision or act of intentional harassment and violence. California courts allow dashcam footage to be admitted in court, but strong footage may be just the evidence needed to settle a case without litigation.
Dashcam footage may also be what an attorney needs to dismiss or turn down a case altogether. The camera, once again, does not lie; it shows everything. If a California cyclist treats a stop sign as a yield sign (cue the “Idaho Stop” rant), the police, opposing counsel, or jury are going to see that. Even if a cyclist is not at fault, their use of colorful invective directed at a liable-yet-likable driver may cause a jury to turn against them. Being blameless in a collision looks great to a jury — verbally assaulting someone’s grandmother immediately after, not so much.
Even if the camera wasn’t on at the time of the collision, it is a good idea for a cyclist to start recording the interaction with the driver. California requires notification, so simply letting the driver know they’re being filmed is sufficient. Whether or not it shows the actual collision, a video at the scene can strengthen a case. It shows where the involved vehicles came to rest as well as any skid marks on the pavement, information that could be crucial to the accident reconstruction later.
Choosing a camera
For the law-abiding bike commuter or cyclist riding around cars, a camera is a great idea. Nothing is free, but dashcams have never been more accessible.
If money is no object, Cycliq makes a set of front and rear cameras. With a price tag north of $600, this may deter budget-conscious riders. The Cycliq cameras double as lights, which makes for an all-in-one solution for cyclists looking to see and be seen when out on the town.
For cyclists not looking to break the bank, a smartphone can quickly be turned into a dashcam using free, readily available apps. Dashcam for Your Bike is one such option. Designed by Pittsburgh cyclist and developer Armin Samii, this app dims the phone’s screen to minimize battery usage.
Remember: any camera is better than no camera, so use what is available.
Don’t throw away a perfect game
Armando Galarraga knows he threw the perfect game. The 17,000+ fans in the stands knew he threw a perfect game. By now, even Jim Joyce admits it was a perfect game. But you won’t find Galarraga’s name in the MLB record books. Being right in a bicycle collision case doesn’t mean much if you can’t get the settlement or verdict to back it up, and a dashcam may mean the difference between the perfect case and a defense verdict.
Have you or someone you know been involved in a bicycle crash? Want to know about your rights? Are you a lawyer handling a bicycle crash who wants the best result for your client? Contact Bicycle Law at 866-VELOLAW (866-835-6529) or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bicycle Law’s lawyers practice law through Coopers LLP, which has lawyers licensed in California, Oregon, and Washington state, and can affiliate with local counsel on bicycle cases across the country to make sure cyclists benefit from cycling-focused lawyers.