Tailgating motorist

July 20, 2015 at 22:32 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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Almost a year to the day since this incident, I today experienced another rather unpleasant situation on the roads. I wasn’t hit, but was somewhat spooked. I was riding up Burns Bay Road this morning – traffic was moderate, although had bunched up a bit around me because of a red traffic light half-way up the hill.

video

Then I heard a car behind me start on the horn. Then it got closer and closer. And sounded the horn again. And then got really close, the driver gesticulating for me to move over.

Move over to where, I’m not exactly sure, as there was no way she was going to get past without going into the other lane. More the the point, I wasn’t going to head into the gutter so she could try and squeeze by anyway.

It’s a little hard to judge, but I reckon she was around 50cm off my back wheel at the closest. I could hear the engine right behind me, and honestly thought at one point she was going to clip my back wheel. Which, of course, would not have been pleasant. As in ‘serious injury’ not pleasant.

Once she finally got past (having been behind me for all of twenty seconds – apparently my safety is less important than those 20 seconds of here oh-so-valuable life), she called out through the window:

           ‘Move over. You’re going to get killed!’.

The irony of this statement is, of course, stark. I laughed out loud at this, in part from relief that she was no longer behind me, but also as I thought of what she actually meant:

           ‘I’m a bad driver. I might kill you!’

As the eagle eyed of you will have spotted, I do have footage of this incident. Yes, I have joined the legion of cam-toting cyclists, and not that long after the last incident equipped myself with a rear-facing camera – a Cycliq Fly6. I will do a review of it in due course – I’d meant to do it a while back, but not got around to it.

After reviewing the footage once I got to work, I took myself off to the local police station to report the incident. As I could see it, there were three possible offenses being committed – driving too close to the vehicle in front, incorrect use of the horn and aggressive driving.

I showed the footage to the Constable on duty, and whilst sympathetic and interested, initially he told me there was nothing he could do. I held my ground, and asked to speak to his superior, and after some discussion it was agreed that I could make a report. The key in all of this was agreeing that I was prepared to go to court; once this was established it all became much easier.

Was there a bit of fobbing me off initially? Perhaps, but I have to say once we were over that, the police could not have been more polite and helpful. I made my statement, he took the footage, and promised to call me back with more information.

True to his word, he called me later that day. He had spoken to the motorist, who initially had been dismissive and aggressive, but once was told that there was video footage suddenly became rather more cooperative and contrite.

He had also asked the traffic division to look at the footage, to see what the best course of action would be with regards to charges. Here things were a little less successful. ‘Misuse of the horn’ was virtually impossible to get past a magistrate, in their opinion. Tailgating was a possibility, but the difficulty would be in proving just how close she got. We were travelling fairly slowly, and the prosecution would need to prove that she was so close to me that at those speeds she would have been unable to stop if needed. This they thought was tricky, as establishing exactly how close she was, and how fast I was travelling, was very hard to do from the footage – certainly it was unlikely to be solid enough to convince a magistrate (reasonable doubt and all that). Interestingly he said that had my rear wheel been in the shot, it would have helped tremendously – both to give perspective on the distance, and also to see the wheel rotation to measure speed. So there’s something to bear in mind – angling the camera down to take in the top of the rear wheel and the road behind you is a worth considering if you want the footage to stand up to court scrutiny.

He was looking into predatory driving, but this was usually reserved for more serious offenses where people were actually injured. Again, he felt this would be tricky, as I would have to have felt like I was in mortal danger. Did I feel that? Well, a bit I suppose, but certainly nothing like  I felt in the seconds before I was actually hit last time. He was still looking into this, but felt it was a long shot, and again unlikely to get up before a magistrate.

So all in all, it’s unlikely that this will go any further. But in another way, I got the result I wanted. The driver got a somewhat confronting call from the police, and had to acknowledge her driving was far from perfect. Hopefully she’ll think a little harder next time.

It was also an interesting exercise to understand how the police work on these types of matters. I felt the police were diligent and helpful, and explained to me clearly the problems they foresaw in proving the case in court – which ultimately is what dictates their actions on what, if any, charges to lay. So top marks to Constable Taylor of Chatswood Police station.

That it should be so hard to get any offense proven is I suppose an indictment of the way the system works, but also helps to clarify where the problem lies. Yes, I know some cyclists have had issues with police being uninterested in incidents of dangerous driving, but I suspect it’s actually more about the overall court system – which in turn is a reflection of our societal biases. Ultimately the police want convictions, and if the courts were more sympathetic to cyclists, the police would be putting more cases forward. That will happen as our overall society becomes more accepting of cycling as a legitimate form of transport that deserves protection against poor driving. Which will happen . . . .  eventually. Perhaps?

Anyway, here’s a few top tips if you run a camera and need to report something to the police:

  •  Angle the camera such that your wheel is visible in the shot. Helps to establish distances and speeds. Telemetry from a speed sensor is also great.
  • When you go in to make a statement, be clear that you are prepared to go to court (if course, to do actually need to be prepared to go…!)
  • When you make your statement, ensure you cover how scared / vulnerable / in danger you felt. Don’t ham it up, but don’t play it down.
  • If necessary, be somewhat persistent. But always be polite and respectful.
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