Bike Cameras: The New Protective Gear

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Red light cameras, speed cameras, police cameras; Video footage of Chicago drivers is being gathered all the time, all over the city.  Drivers should also be aware of a new camera on the streets.  As WGN’s Nancy Loo reports, a growing number of bicyclists view bike cams as a key piece of protective gear.

Travelling the streets of Chicago by bike can often be an unpredictable obstacle course.  Near collisions seems to happen all day, every day. (horn honks)  Close calls are why Scott Wilson regularly documents his commute to a Northwest side bike shop with a small video camera mounted to his handle bars. “There have been a few times I have been brushed by a car and I think, well, had that been one more inch over, or getting doored.” Dooring is a common problem, drivers who open their car doors in the path of a cyclist.  The city fines driver $1000 if a cyclist is hurt. Personal injury attorney Gerald Bekkerman thinks more cyclists with cameras on their helmets or handlebars could keep the majority of cases out of court.”You should be filming your commute, because if a driver’s negligence is captured on video, you did nothing wrong, then you have really good evidence.” With a popular bike sharing program in Chicago, the addition of 100’s of miles of new bike lanes, and a city push for commuters to be greener, there are more bicyclists in Chicago than ever, even through the winter months.  Bike commuter Aaron Holm wishes he had rigged up his GoPro camera while riding through the west loop last week. “Just riding along, a car turned into me and I landed on the windshield. For safety reasons, if I would’ve had the footage of me getting hit, I could have shown it to the police department right then and there. And, I could have sent that into insurance and everything else.”  The Illinois Bike Attorneys group represents dozens of injured cyclists every year. Tom Pakenas expects bike cam footage to factor into more cases in the future. “Makes my job extremely easy.  We go to the insurance company with video of door popping open at the last minute, or car making a turn in front of the bicycle rider. That’s definitive proof.”  But cyclists should keep in mind that their footage can cut both ways. Video is also documenting their behavior on the roads. And attorney Bekkerman says all should be aware that a state eavesdropping law does not allow for the recording of audio without consent. “In an accident, get into a talk with the driver and you have a yelling match.  Guess what? You better get consent to talk. Otherwise that audio should not be recording.  I don’t think it’d be admissible. In fact, it might be a crime.”  But Pakenas says, even without audio, the video could speak volumes.   “It’s kind of like insurance.  You never, until you really need it, then you’re really thankful for it.”

More cyclists on the roads have raised public awareness and the Illinois Department of Transportation says crashes are down.  Please help us spread the word by sharing this story. .

Producer Pam Grimes, and Photojournalists Audrey Haynes, Nelson Howard, and Ted Parra also contributed to this report.


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  • darcy

    YES!!! Please wear cameras on your helmets so that all of the bicyclists who want cars to follow the "rules of the road," can be caught NOT following the rules as well. I love the bicycle brigade down Milwaukee Ave, by Western every morning who don't stop for red lights. HELLO!!!! How are you not afraid of getting killed by a car if you don't stop at red lights or stop signs. If you are going to be on the street, acting like a "vehicle," then you need to follow the rules like a vehicle. I fully support bike cameras, but not because cars will get in trouble but because I can't wait for it to catch bicyclists crossing illegally. Look up the CHicago rules for bicyclists, they actually can be fined for not following the "rules of the road."

    • tonyguy

      Darcy, Wouldn't we all benefit when all vehicles of the road are be equipped with cameras and black boxes, and drivers of all vehicles are required to participate in continuing education and periodic retesting. Driving should not be a right, but a privilege for those who have demonstrated the ability to do so safely. Thirty three thousand Americans a year are called in motor vehicle crashes, the leading cause of death in children, where is the outrage? When a plane of 200 people falls out of the sky it is international news……

    • Kim

      Amen! They run red lights, try to fit their bikes in spots where it is not feasible and if course they think stop signs do t apply to them. See this every year and already happening now too!!

  • Maria

    Would be nice if bicyclists FOLLOWED THE RULES OF THE ROAD! Signal when turning, ride on the correct side of the street. Come to a complete stop at a red light and wait like everyone else, not sit in a left hand turn lane (they are suppose to cross at the cross walk, walking their bikes accross the street), come to a complete stop at stop signs, not blow thru a 4 way stop…….DMV of Illinois has the books for Rules of the road for Bikes….first page states when you ride a bike on the street you must follow the same rules as an auto! READ IT – LEARN IT – LIVE IT!

    • guestinformation

      No, bicycles may take the full lane and turn via the left lane if it is appropriate to do so: there is nothing illegal about taking the lane.

    • tonyguy

      Maria, your argument has no merit. There is no evidence to suggest that drivers of motor vehicles are any more lawful than those that drive bikes. While I agree that drivers of bicycles should obey all applicable laws, a history and culture or marginalization and segregation, making cyclists irrelevant to motorists, fosters an attitude in cyclists minds that "your" rules song matter. It might strike you that a cyclist, who may switch from vehicular to pedestrian mode, and cross an intersection via the crosswalk against a light as a scofflaw, but that is only because it is still socially unacceptable to run red lights in a motor vehicle. Clearly, no such social barrier exists when it comes to motor vehicles and speed limits however.

  • Logan Sq. Driver

    I have seen many BAD bike riders who think they own the streets. After one particular incident, where I was cut off by a bike rider and honked, well he got mad I honked at him and he followed me to hit my car. Well that is not a rule of the road, so I called 311 and had a very nice talk with the 311 operator and understood my pain and concern she transferred me to a police officer who also understood my concern. They both told me to take action and here is why…. they both told me (which I already knew) bike riders must follow the rules of the road. Write a letter to the Mayor's office to let them know that we as drivers need to be safe to, I mean we pay for an annual license plate fee, Chicago city sticker, a neighborhood parking permit, tax on gas for our vehicles, and what do bike riders pay for???? Nothing but they feel they deserve everything!! I think more people need to voice their complaints about bike riders, I mean millions of tax dollars are being used to make bike lanes but I can't even get the garbage picked up in my neighborhood and have to swerve around potholes, I think there can be a better use of tax dollars than on bike lanes… make them (bike riders) pay for what they will use!!!!

    • James Brown

      Cyclists take cars off the road which save substantial tax dollars. A bicycle wears down the roads very little and can be easily parked off the street or on street very densely allowing more room for cars. The air is cleaner. People are fitter. Fewer dollars are wasted on cars, roads, and their maintenance. People who ride bikes but not cars are subsidizing the roads, not the other way around. When it comes to safety, I’ll be happy to come to a 0mph stop at every sign and light when pedestrians and cars do likewise and especially when cars stop trying to run me over when lights change even though I keep up with traffic. (Rolling stops are legal for bikes in some localities as they should be).

      Drivers, your 4 planet lifestyle is over. From here forward, it’s going to be walking, riding, public transport, telecommuting. We don’t have the resources or the ability to absorb the pollution from cars for every household. Wake up. Petrol and other carbon fuels are a dead end.

  • tonyguy

    Cameras are not protective gear – You brain is. Get smart. Dooring is 100% preventable: Do not cycle in the door zone. If your local bicycle facilities are poorly designed, do not use them. If the lanes are not wide enough to share with a motor vehicle abreast – do not share the lane, control your space and your safety. Driving a narrow, unstable conveyance which is often overlooked, even when in plain sight, requires specialized skill and knowledge. Get with it.

  • Msande7

    Yes, Mr. Personal injury lawyer, I can't wait for the bike camera to be used against the bicyclist that follow zero rules of the road. I think all adult bicyclist should be licensed and ticketed and fined just like auto drivers. As a pedestrian I can't even begin to tell you how many times I have almost been mowed down by a bicyclist. Only one has one ever said to me, sorry. My co-worker was just struck by a cyclist that shot around the 22 bus and knocked her down causing injury. The cyclist stopped long enough to see if she was 'okay' and then took off. Sweet.

    • James Brown

      Most of the pedestrians I see when I am riding are crossing the street against the light (or mid block with no crosswalk) while fiddling with their iPhones and not looking. Better yet, they are walking dogs on long leashes that they just let wander into intersections without looking. Please let’s also enforce the speed limit laws so that I don’t have to deal with cars buzzing me doing 10-20mph over the limit. Your stand on enforcing laws is extremely hypocritical. You just don’t want to share the road with other legal vehicles. You’ll learn. Cars are disappearing as bicycles increase.

  • Kevin Crawford

    Yup, those darn cyclists are so bad, I’m almost afraid to leave home without being in my 4,000-lb. rolling metal box. How can Chicagoans possibly survive the bike onslaught?

    These anti-cyclist rants are hilarious. How many cyclists kill people every year? You have to hunt to find ONE, nationwide. On the other hand, cars kill 30,000+, EVERY YEAR. But yes, the thing we must focus on must surely be those crazy cyclists.

    Once again, the selfishness of motorists is on full display to anyone with a functioning brain. Absurd.

  • Harold

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