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Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Revenge of the cyclists?

I've been spat on, sworn at and forced off the road - and that's just by pedestrians. Cars, buses and taxis have driven at me, cut me up, swerved into my path and knocked me to the ground. During seven years of daily cycling in Glasgow I have become accustomed to "almost dying" on a regular basis.

My efforts at retaliation are puny in comparison. I might roll my eyes and shake my head in the offender's direction. Once or twice I've mouthed an ineffectual "wanker". On another occasion, when a jeep driver took a fancy to driving into me three times within a 100m stretch of road, I made an official complaint at the police station across the road.

But no action, direct or otherwise, seemed to change the way some drivers (and walkers) in Glasgow treat cyclists. Until recently, that is.

For the past few months I've been wielding a shiny new weapon of defence: a helmet-mounted digital video camera. And I am not the only one. According to Action Cameras, one of the UK's leading sellers of such cameras, there has been a threefold increase in sales during the past year to cycling commuters. Most, it seems, are shelling out on average £200 for one of these cameras as “witness back up`” in case of a road accident.

But now some cyclists are using their camera recordings as a way to highlight some of the worst driving on our roads. A fellow Glasgow commuter, David Brennan, has even gathered something of a fan club for his video postings after starting a commuter from hell video thread, aka Magnatom, on YouTube. Just viewing these clips from the comfort of your own office chair is bracing enough, let alone imagining what it would be like to be Magnatom himself. See a clip

His videos reveal a catalogue of dangers that face the ordinary city cyclist, including "brush-with-death" motoring incidents, inconsiderate and illegal driving, pedestrian misconduct, poor road surfacing - and even careless cycling.

When I caught up with Magnatom one day during his commute via the Cycle Tunnel he told me: “Although my camera has not changed my commute to any great extent, it does make me feel safer and calmer. Now, instead of screaming in annoyance at motorists, I simply point at my camera. It's amazing how quickly they back off when they clock it.”

But Magnatom also makes the point that footage is not meant to taunt motorists. In fact, Brennan believes that his YouTube films could “ignite a campaign to re-educate all road users”.

Perhaps he has something here as this week I came across a petition that is gaining huge momentum. The petition, which will be presented to the PM, was created by Tom Amos and reads:

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to introduce
legislation that all motorists must allow a minimum of 3 feet
in distance between their vehicle and a cyclist that they drive

To sign the petition log on here

If the Government can do anything to make roads safer for cyclists then I'm all for it. In the meantime I’m keeping my helmet camera switched on and ready to capture any unwelcome driving antics. So far the only videoing of note was a when I came close to being knocked off my bike by something jumpy and yappy. But Lakeland terriers aren't much concerned by video gadgets.

But perhaps the most noticeable difference has been in what hasn't happened. A bus driver waved me past instead of doing the usual sudden pull-out manoeuvre, possibly because he noticed my filming potential. I'm also sure that a silver sports car gave me a wider berth after I tilted my helmet camera towards the driver.

Then again, perhaps I've just had an unsually lucky few months on the roads.


  1. Well, finally, I have found someone that agrees with the cause!

    I have found that the naysayers tend to shout with the loudest voice. Most people who agree with the idea tend to just sign the petition and move on, whilst the anti-brigade scream and shout until they get an audience. I feel it would be a great pity if they ruin it for everyone.

    Most people who criticise the rule say that it would be unenforceable. That is something that we can discuss with the police later!

  2. Now this article looks familiar.. ;-)

    I came across this whilst looking for something else. I hope all is well with you.

    I'm still filming, but have noticed that there are now more cyclists and less incidents. Maybe I am just cycling faster! :-)