New Police Guidelines for Video Footage

I came across some new guidelines that all Police forces across the UK may take on board and apply to any footage taken by a road user. This came about from the below incident. I did the usual and forwarded the video on to RoadSafe London, they deemed that this was serious enough to warrant prosecution that they forwarded it on to the Traffic Criminal Justice Unit (TCJU) in Sidcup.

The TCJU looked at the incident and responded with the following.

After careful consideration of all the available evidence it has been decided that the other party will not be prosecuted for the offence of Driving without Due Care.

I can confirm however that this office has written to the other party and reminded them of their responsibilities as a road user, to drive safely and comply with road traffic law.

I thought the incident was clear-cut driving without due care. Quiet clearly the driver didn’t need to encroach into the cycle lane or come anywhere near it (watch the vehicle behind). I’m happy with the action that was taken, it is all I expected when I sent it to RoadSafe London. But I wanted to know more about why they had chosen not to prosecute. So I asked the TCJU if they could let me know why.

The TCJU responded with the following

Following guidelines of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) we decided not to initiate proceedings on this occasion.

In relation to the concept of prosecution of mobile phone and other minor traffic offences from video submissions where and accident has not occurred, the ACPO Roads Policing following guidance form the Crown Prosecution Service and expert advice from Road Policing bodies, concluded that prosecution for offences based solely upon video evidence submitted by members of the public are unlikely. The value of evidence that has not been seized and stored according to the police business processes is limited form an evidential point of view.
The ACPO recommends that a suitable letter to the registered owner of the vehicle would be proportionate where the submitted clips meet a high enough standard.

I find it strange, that the Traffic Criminal Justice Unit class mobile phone use as a minor traffic offence. We all know from research that it is more dangerous than being drunk at the wheel.

First lets look at the Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) guidelines on Driving without due care

A person is to be regarded as driving without due care and attention if (and only if) the way he drives falls below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver.

Well that seems fairly clear cut. I think that is well below what would be expected of a ‘competent and careful’ driver.

Now onto the ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers) guidelines, this took me several weeks to get hold of as it wasn’t a document that was already publicly available and the rest of it is a story for another day. The guidelines that were sent to me reference mainly an issue with a website policewitness.com and the fact that it is falsely advertising it self as having ties with the police, when it doesn’t. There is a small mention of video footage which I have quoted below, this is what the TCJU are referring to as ACPO guidelines.

In relation to the concept of prosecution of mobile phone and other minor traffic offences from video submissions from this company, I have sought guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and expert advice from Roads Policing colleagues.

It is the opinion of such experts that a prosecution for offences based solely upon this video evidence is unlikely and I have included further clarification in respect of this in Annex 1.

I also have concerns that such an approach effectively removes the level of discretion and professional judgement used by officers when dealing with incidents or offences of this type, the value of which cannot be underplayed.

….

A prosecution for an offence via a clip submitted in such a manner is unlikely and therefore the value of such clips should be taken as limited.  If Forces are seeking an appropriate response, I would recommend that in most cases, a suitable letter to the registered owner of the vehicle would be proportionate where the submitted clips meet a high enough standard;

You may wish to consider making a clear policy decision not to act upon submitted video clips where the volume becomes unmanageable;

The idea of a ‘vigilante’ approach of members of the public standing by the side of the road with mobile phones and video cameras should be argued against for safety reasons.

And here crops up the ‘mobile phone and other minor traffic offences’, so it is Suzette Davenport Deputy Chief Constable, Northamptonshire Police, ACPO Lead For The Roads Policing Portfolio that thinks using a mobile phone whilst driving is a minor traffic offence.
Whilst the CPS and expert Roads Policing colleagues might think that it is unlikely that there will be a prosecution for an offence based solely on video evidence, the results that some video camera cyclists have had paint a different picture. There must have been at least 10 in the last 2 years.
It mentions concern for professional judgement used by officers, I don’t think anyone would question that, but why should that dismiss any video footage? The footage is information, information that you can analyse and use to make a professional judgement on a situation. Much better than a witness which may have forgotten something.
Is it not also telling that if people are concerned enough about the safety on our roads that they are making videos and reporting them to the Police, that there is a problem?

I contacted RoadSafe London about this and they forwarded my concerns to the Senior Manager of the Catford Traffic Criminal Justice Unit. Who said the following.

I have examined the case file and I believe the correct decision was made. It is of some comfort that you were not injured and that no damage was caused. Hopefully reminding the other party of their responsibilities will have the desired effect.

As I said before I’m happy with the action taken.

Whilst you are correct in that the advice was prompted by the activities of a private company who it would seem were flooding police forces with video material, the advice does clearly state that it is;
“An approach which forces may wish to adopt when dealing with video evidence submitted by this company, members of the public or any third party company”
As you can see the advice was intended to embrace all submissions falling into this category. I would agree that there have been instances such material has been used, but I would have to say that each case would have been dealt with on it’s merits and in close consultation with the CPS. This will continue to be the case. I think it is wrong to assume that the decision in this case represents a policy of rejecting submissions of video footage such as this without appropriate consideration.

He slightly misquoted what was said in the letter, that is minor. I’m pleased to see that he states each case will be looked at individually and with close consultation with the CPS, this is the way it was previously done and should continue to be. Are these guidelines adding anything to the standard process? Or are they using the power of the CPS and ACPO as a sort of reason why we aren’t prosecuting (I’m sure they can easily say why they aren’t, which is the confusing part)?

I contacted the officer marked as the contact on the ACPO guidelines and asked them if the letter was intended to be used for all forms of video footage taken or just those submitted by policewitness.com. I got the following response.

The letter gave advice on dealing with video clips submitted by members of the public or third party companies which identified ‘minor’ Road Traffic Offences. The letter detailed how video footage alone would be unlikely to lead to a prosecution in these cases without strong supporting evidence.
So it is meant for any report, which is disappointing to see.

It is a real shame to see this coming from London. There has been some fantastic work put in by RoadSafe London over the past 3 years, which has seen a massive increase in reports coming in over that time due to a huge growth in road users getting video cameras. At the moment none of us truly expect more than a letter sent to the driver from the Police, which is something that was very much unheard of several years ago.

What we don’t want to read is the following

the concept of prosecution of mobile phone and other minor traffic offences

Using a mobile phone whilst driving is a minor traffic offence?

A prosecution for an offence via a clip submitted in such a manner is unlikely and therefore the value of such clips should be taken as limited

Should a clip be deemed less valuable because a prosecution is unlikely?

minor traffic offences from video submissions where and [an] accident has not occurred

Effectively they are saying, unless you were hit by the vehicle, we are not interested in prosecuting the driver.

In the grand scheme of things, I don’t think this is going to change too much. It is still very rare for video footage to be used in a prosecution and where it has needed to be used, it has been. However it can easily have the effect that the Police do not care for road safety. As I said with so many road users up and down the country taking to the road with video cameras (not just cyclists) there must be something wrong with the way that some people are continually behaving on our roads. If they feel like they are being brushed aside because it is only ‘minor’, then they will lose faith in the Police force.

You can download a copy of the ACPO letter here >

Helmet Cameras and the Law

I posted before about the use of cameras on the road and the laws behind it. But i feel i missed a few things out that are worth noting. From before we know that the general use of a camera is perfectly legal. The information commissioner confirmed that recording for personal purposes on the road is perfectly fine and that uploading footage to websites like youtube is fine, even if it includes faces or VRNs (Vehicle Registration Number). The information commissioner also confirmed that this is not braking any part of the Data Protection Act.

What about article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights

Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

Martin Porter wrote about just this, what is more important, the right to privacy or the right to live? Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights states

Everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law. No one shall be deprived of his life intentionally save in the execution of a sentence of a court following his conviction of a crime for which this penalty is provided by law.

People have tried to spin this argument against me but the European Convention on Human Rights only applies to a state and not an individual member of the public. Let’s also not forget that the roads are a public place and there should be no expectation of privacy on them.

The Human Rights Act in the UK applies the acts from the European Convention on Human Rights to all members of the public in the UK and not just the state. But again the question is what is more important, life or privacy? The Human Rights Act states

You have the responsibility to respect other people’s rights, and they must respect yours.

How much privacy is actually broken by posting a video online? I would say minimal, everything that is displayed is public information and only friends and relatives can identify the person by their face. There have been no cases so far that relate to this so it is hard to say what the outcome would be in a court of law.

There has been plenty of media coverage about helmet cameras this year already several court cases involving footage from cameras. So far there has not been even a hint from the Police, CPS or any other legal body that using cameras and posting footage of it online is against the law.

How to do digital overlays

There has been a boom of cyclists that have started to take to the roads with video cameras. As one of them, I try to come up with and promote ways that we as a group can make our videos better. One thing that is missing from the videos is speed, and with wide-angle lenses it can often be very difficult to judge from a video just how fast a cyclist is actually traveling.

I’ve made a few videos where I have digital read outs on the video and I often get questions asking about these when I make them.

A cyclists who goes by the name VeryMadMart has made a java application that takes the files recorded by a ContourHD and the TCX files recorded by a Garmin GPS unit and puts the data on the video frame by frame with some nice graphics.

Essentially the application just needs a .mov file and a GPX file to make the overlay, so you don’t have to use a ContourHD and Garmin device.

The hardest part of doing this is trimming the video and editing the TCX XML file to match. Essentially most of the time the video and data will be slightly out of sync. I have found the best way is to use the latitude and longitude found in the XML and search that on google maps, it gives me an idea of where I’m looking at and I usually cut the start of the video to a side road or similar where I can easily match it up ‘exactly’ on the google maps. This minimises the delay from video to data to within a second in most cases.

This isn’t the only way cyclists can do this. Vholdr, the owners of the Contour brand, have released a version of their camera with GPS inbuilt to it. This makes for another way to get some information about your ride and match it up to your camera. How this works with a site like youtube I don’t know. But upload the footage on to the Contour website and it looks like the whole thing is automatic and a nice map and data is displayed next to the video.

Digital overlays and speed readouts isn’t just a gimmick, in the case of a collision the information will be vital. GPS positioning will back up what your camera says and gives you an accurate speed just before impact! No more ‘I was doing about 15mph officer’
How many motorists can do this? I bet less than 1% can!

For more detailed information on the steps involved and to download a copy of the java file, please visit VeryMadMarts website.

Airzound

New bicycles bought from a shop by law have to come with a bell, bells are ok on towpaths and at slow speeds. The problem with them is when you get to higher speeds. Pedestrians and car drivers won’t hear a bell in time to react or know where it’s coming from. This is where the Airzound comes into play, an air horn for bicycles, it blasts out a loud 115 decibels at full volume.

Why is this useful? In some occasions you need to make people aware that you are there and what better way to do it than to make an awful loud sound which could be mistaken for a truck horn. People certainly will take notice of you and hopefully react.

I’ve been using mine for several weeks and have found it very useful to warn drivers, cyclists and pedestrians of my presence.

See the Airzound website set up by Thomas Etherington with reviews and information on how to mount it to thicker road bar handlebars.