Photo by Conal Thomas

A year ago, Phil Skelton captured video of a car overtaking him on his bike. It got too close and was dangerous.

He sent the footage to Gardaí in Wexford. “The driver was mortified,” he said. She got a warning.

Skelton, who set up Safe Cycling Ireland, encourages cyclists to report close passes to Gardaí if they have footage from cycle cameras or dash cams.

Close passes are usually down to “ignorance and lack of empathy, rather than malicious intent”, he  says.

Gardaí are sceptical about video footage, fearing it could be misleading without context, or could be faked. But police in the UK regularly use such video footage.

It’s a “game changer”, says PC Mark Hodson of the West Midlands Traffic Policing Unit. “The end result is it saves lives and saves the economy millions.”

On Tape

David Lynam says he has reported four close passes in Irishtown and Blanchardstown to Gardaí using footage. He drops footage on USB sticks or DVDs down to his local station.

But a lot of time could pass without hearing anything back, he says. “I didn’t hear anything after months.” Lynam also puts the videos on YouTube, he says.

Brendan D’Arcy says he has sent in four videos in the last few years, too. But he has never heard anything back.

Once he took down his laptop to show them and Gardaí were helpful, he says. The sound quality meant it wouldn’t hold up in court though, Lynam says he was told. “Which doesn’t make sense because you can see everything.”

People can report dangerous driving at their local Garda station, says Sergeant Jim Molloy of the Garda Press Office. They should provide unedited video footage if they have it, he says.

But it isn’t all done and dusted then, Molloy says. “This is where we have issues. People think they can just leave a registration plate with us and we can prosecute someone.”

But videos could be fake, he says. Witnesses or whoever took the footage would need to make a statement and give evidence in court, too.

Posting Online

Skelton led the Staying Alive at 1.5 campaign here. A bill calling for fines or penalty points for drivers if they get closer than minimum lateral distance of 1.5 metres to a pedal bike is working its way through the Dáil.

Cyclists used to email Skelton footage of near misses and dangerous driving to post on social media, he says. Now though, he wants people to report these things to police.

Posting online might undermine prosecution, says Molloy from the Garda Press Office. The poster could be guilty of libel by naming someone online and accusing them of a crime.

Gardaí don’t follow up on videos posted online, says Molloy. “These videos are of limited evidential value without the person who took the video proving the date, time and location of the incident.”

Video hasn’t changed the world that much, he says. “It’s a piece of evidence, but it’s just another piece of evidence.”

However, even if somebody isn’t prosecuted, Gardaí might sometimes give a warning, he says.

Other Approaches

Video has changed a lot in the United Kingdom, though. Evidence from footage can be damning, says PC Mark Hodson of the West Midlands Traffic Policing Unit.

In recent years, people have been sending in more and more camera footage to West Midlands police. In 2015, police set up a National Dashcam Safety Portal where people can upload footage of road incidents and fill out a statement form.

Says Hodson: “We realised that if the evidence is that good, you can use it to prosecute. We can’t be everywhere at once.”

The impact on driver behaviour is tremendous, says Hodson. “The only way to change driver behaviour is the constant threat that they can be prosecuted.”

Cyclists are really useful, he says. Because they ride through traffic and catch people on their mobile phones.

Evidence of a close pass by a cyclist can carry a heavy sentence of a£100 fine and three penalty points, because of how dangerous it is, he says.

Cameras mean they can now prosecute for close passes. “Before cameras we couldn’t prosecute offences because it was one word against another. The camera is an independent witness,” he says.

Footage is good-quality evidence, so there are few not-guilty pleas if cases do go to court, he says. Only 1 percent of cases get there, though. “Because the footage is absolutely damning.”

It also frees up police time for other issues. “So we’re not standing there at the side of the road,” he says.

Doctoring Footage?

Molloy says there are problems with videos. “We don’t know if it’s raw and unedited, and we don’t know what happened before that. Let us gather the evidence.”

Hodson says police in the United Kingdom require a minute of footage before and a minute after any incident. So they’ll be sure of context.

As for doctoring footage? It just doesn’t happen, he says.

“You’d have to go into realms of tech expertise to doctor footage. It’s not something people would do just to get out of a €140 fine,” he says.

Footage is often time-stamped too. If you change the footage, you change the time stamp, so doctoring is easy to see, says Hodson. “We’ve been using footage for years. We can always prove it if needs be,” he says.

Lynam says the Dublin roads can feel lawless. “It can be difficult for anyone to help you,” he says. “It’s spiraling a bit out of control.”

[UPDATE: This article was corrected on 24 October at 15:10. A quotation from David Lynam had been misattributed to Brendan D’Arcy. Apologies for the error.]

Zuzia Whelan is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

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