Camera not very obscura


Motorcycle helmet cameras| CCTV | Dashcams | Evidence | Insurance



Okay, I confess. I did it. I bought a helmet camera. But only after long provocation. You probably know the things I’m talking about. People use them for track days or for proving to their friends that their Hayabusa really did crack 200mph on the Preston By Pass/A1/M1/M4 (delete as applicable).


Only, I don’t really know what a track day is, and I don’t have a Hayabusa. Instead, I’ve got a couple of oily old Triumphs, an even older (and oily) BSA, and a not so old (and not so oily) BMW R80, and I use my helmet cam when I’m riding down to the supermarket, or to the bank, or taking a trip to the coast, or any of the other ordinary things you do in the course of a pretty ordinary life.


Mostly, I use it for security.

Or is that insecurity?


Either way, the little doo-dah, the size of a lipstick, sits right there beside my goggles and records whichever way my head is pointing. The camera isn’t cheap, by the way. It’s five hundred quid’s worth of fairly high tech kit and comes with a remote control that you can wear like a wristwatch or clamp to the handlebars and hang around your neck. Apparently the special forces guys use this model, but probably not for going down to the shops.


It’s near broadcast quality too, and has a lead that connects it to a solid state unit that you stick in your pocket or in your tool bag. The screen and mic are built in. On a two gig memory card, it records around 15 hours at low resolution, and around 90 minutes at high resolution. You can “loop it”, which means that you can tell it to record in fifteen minute segments, or two minute segments, or whatever time loop you program. And as such, the last fifteen minutes (or two minutes) is continuously erased.


Which probably isn’t much use on a bike. You could, for instance, run into the side of a car with the camera recording exactly what the silly sod did, only to have that information erased by the next segment showing the passers by standing around in the usual knot of human stupidity and leaning in and asking things like “ooh, do you think he’s alright down there...”, only to have that bit erased by yet another segment showing a couple of coppers talking to you in the back of an ambulance and concluding that it was probably your fault all along (you were riding a bike after all)—at which point the batteries run out.


On the subject of which, the camera uses four AAs, rechargeable or otherwise, and they usually last for hours.


So I tend to just leave the thing running continuously, quickly refreshing it every time I do something that I’d rather the police didn’t see—which isn’t as often as you might think. Like I said, I don’t ride a Hayabusa and have no track day tendencies, latent or otherwise.


When I bought the camera, I thought most other motorcyclists would agree it was a pretty good idea. And actually, most do. But a surprising number of riders disagree and are puzzled why anyone in their right mind (not that I’ve ever claimed that) would want to ride around this beautiful country of ours with a camera plugged into their ear.


I’m tempted to reply that I ride around with a camera in my ear because it’s such a beautiful country; because I can’t bear to miss a second of it and like to hurry back home and see it all again while I’m having my dinner.


Only that’s not true. And I don’t enjoy having the camera sticking out of my ear either. The fact is, it’s just a tool. A necessary evil, and arguably as vital to your security as, say, your bike lock or your insurance policy, or that AK-47 you keep under your bed.


"Put simply, plenty of people have been wrongly convicted because their DNA happened to stray onto someone else's murder weapon."


Of course, in an ideal world, none of the aforementioned things would be necessary. In an ideal world you could park your motorcycle anywhere with the keys in the ignition, safe in the knowledge that no one would touch it—except to switch off the parking lights that you inadvertently left on.


In an ideal world you wouldn’t need an insurance policy because you wouldn’t fall off your bike, or hit any pedestrians or passing motorists, and neither would your heap backfire through the carb and explode between your legs.


In an ideal world, you wouldn’t need that AK to waste some scumbag caught creeping in through your living room window in the dead of night (or even dead of day).


Only, it’s not an ideal world, and bad things don’t happen only to bad people (unfortunately); bad things happen to good people too, and even mediocre people, and usually very suddenly—and often when no one is there to witness it. And motoring, or motorcycling, is one of those areas of life when very suddenly you can find yourself in a heap of trouble through no fault of your own.


Need convincing? Okay, consider this. You’re riding down the street minding your own business when some suicidal fool runs out from behind a parked van. It happens in the blinking of an eye and— BAMM!—you hit said fool with a four hundred pound bike (plus whatever weight you’re personally saddled with), and there you are, blood all over the headlight, and one dead fool mashed under the sump.


With luck, the police will show up (sooner or later) and work out what happened. They'll find a couple of loitering witnesses who will speak out in your favour. And because you’ve got an insurance policy (ideally comprehensive), you can clean the muck of the headlight and straighten whatever’s bent, and go about your business.


But if you haven’t got that luck with you, if all the bad stuff in your life that you’ve been waiting to come around finally does come around, if there aren't any (reliable) witnesses, you’re suddenly in handcuffs on a charge of dangerous driving and possibly manslaughter. And it takes only one Court appointed expert idiot to look at the photos of your tyre rubber on the asphalt and work out that you were hurtling along at perhaps fifty in a thirty limit (even though you weren’t), or that your brakes weren’t much use in 1963 when the bike was built, and haven’t improved in the intervening years. Or maybe you had a bit too much mother’s ruin the night before—which may not have the slightest relevance to fact that some fool walked straight into your path without even waving a white flag, and that will show up as damning evidence in whatever specimen you provide. So now you’re in trouble, and could find yourself locked up for years.


An unlikely scenario? On an individual basis, it probably is. But looked at nationally, this kind of thing happens every day of the week, every week of the year. And yes, if you’re driving half sensibly, you can usually spot the idiots even when they’re hiding, and if you’re experienced, you learn to stay away from parked vehicles, etc.


But danger is everywhere, and sooner or later some of it is coming your way—and you’d better be ready for it, either before or after the fact.


I spoke to one magazine editor who thought I was daft. He expressed the view that I was somehow victimising myself; that by wearing a helmet cam, I was becoming part of my own problem and weakening my sense of security on the street (not that I ever had much to begin with). It seems that he felt that a helmet camera was somehow impinging on his privacy. Apparently looking at someone and merely remembering it, is fine. But dumping that information into a camera and later dumping that information into the trash is dodgy.


I might have explained that a helmet cam is no more a matter of self victimisation than locking the garage, or checking that the gas is turned off at night.


But there was no point. Helmet cams tend to polarise viewpoints. And with a helmet cam in the fray, you’re either smart and far sighted, or your daft and short sighted. There doesn’t appear to be any middle ground.


Many times I’ve tried to explain the rationale behind the camera. But it doesn’t get me anywhere. The notion that anyone in this day and age would want to record the view in front of him, or her, is considered highly suspect. Grotesque even. Deviant. It’s akin to standing on a packing crate outside your pretty neighbour’s window with your trousers round your ankles and … well, you get the idea.


A helmet camera is, perhaps, a slap in the face of the cosy, genteel, between-the-wars view of an England at peace with itself—and probably a hard and painful reminder that the world has changed out of all recognition over the past twenty or thirty years. Helmet cameras are symptomatic of the problem, and not the problem itself.


As most people know, we live in an island that has more CCTV cameras per capita than anywhere else on earth. Those cameras are everywhere these days, probing, spying, watching, stealthily collecting data. They’re at practically every major road junction. They’re on the dashboards of all police traffic vehicles. And soon, the police are going to be using helmet cams of their own, leaving Joe Public blithely walking (or riding) into an ocean of official scrutiny, a victim of whatever bureaucratic viewpoint the state wants to maintain.


How so? It's because CCTV systems, when they actually work, don’t always show the truth. They show only a perspective. As with all evidence, it can often point one way, or it can point the other. You might have been doing something a little foolish twenty seconds before you slammed into the idiot jumping out from behind the van; evidence taken from a roadside camera that will help satisfy a Court that you were behaving badly that day and were therefore culpable.


And guilty as sin.


And that camera may not be sited to show the true position, as seen from your perspective. It may not, for instance, show that two seconds before you hit the idiot, you had to swerve to avoid another idiot which pushed you closer to the parked van than you might otherwise have intended to be.


Try proving that in Court.


Put simply, plenty of people have been wrongly convicted because their DNA happened to stray onto someone else's murder weapon. Plenty more have been convicted because they were unable to prove exactly what they were doing at the moment when something nasty happened. And I don’t mind paying for my own screw ups. But I’m not paying for anyone else.


Not if I can help it.


A helmet camera is nothing but a receipt; a receipt for whatever information your eyes have been collecting. And just like any other receipt, you may someday need to produce it as evidence of your “purchase”.


And it works. A few months ago, for example, I was riding through South London and had some words with a van driver who promptly came up behind and deliberately thumped into the rear of my bike, smashing the number plate. He was gunning for me, regardless of the fact that I had my other half on the pillion.


The driver wanted to tough it out and began canvassing for witnesses claiming that I stopped too quickly—never mind that if you run into the guy in front, it’s always your fault. However, when I explained that I had it all on camera, that I’d caught it in the rear view mirror (which I hadn’t), he paid up.





Cheap at ten times that price in view of the possible charges that could be levelled against him that might include dangerous driving, criminal damage, and even assault. And, worse, a lot of points on his licence.


Hopefully, there won’t be a next time. Hopefully the bike won’t backfire through the carb and explode. Hopefully I won’t have to chase out a burglar with the old AK. Hopefully no one will jump out from behind a parked van and cream themselves under my wheels.


But hope, of course, doesn’t look after your interests. Rather, hope is all you have when you haven’t taken steps to protect yourself (either before or after the fact). Hope is all you have when you dig a ditch in the beach, insert your head, and scoop the sand around your ears.


Hope alone is hopeless.


These cameras aren’t complicated. You don’t need a degree to operate one. They’re not a chore or a burden (no more than locking the garage, anyway). You just switch it on, forget about it, go for a ride, come home, dump the information, switch it off. Then you get out the packing crate and go and check out your pretty neighbour.


But if it all goes wrong on the ride, if something bad happens en route, you’re covered. At least, you've got a witness. Also, if someone (deliberately or otherwise) crashes an aircraft into the Houses of Parliament as you’re passing, you’ve probably made a lot of money. And you can use the camera to record those wonderful moments that come up unexpectedly. Such as a naked woman walking down the street (I really saw that once, but didn't have a camera ready).


Additionally, you can use the camera to record whatever problem you’re having with your bike and then email the footage to your mate/friendly mechanic, etc.


In fact, it’s hard to think of a rational argument for not having one of these five hundred quid special forces thingies (or even one of the £70 budget versions). And in this day and age with big brother constantly watching you, it can’t hurt to keep an eye on big brother in return.


Be seeing you.


—Danny DeFazio



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