On March 8, 2020, Carl Leslie Behler, with cocaine, cocaine metabolites, and Alprazolam in his blood system, drove his GMC Yukon across the double yellow centerline of a road in Annapolis, Maryland, plowing head-on into seven cyclists. Behler killed Air Force Veteran, husband, son, grandfather, and bicyclist Arthur Carter on impact. Two more were flown to a trauma center with life-threatening injuries, and four more sustained physical and emotional trauma.
Most cyclists will admit a horrifying scenario like this is their greatest fear when out for a ride. They’re also likely to guess, with a resigned sigh, that Behler probably got a slap on the wrist—after all, in most states, the only law explicitly addressing bike safety is a safe passing law (or three-foot rule), and hitting a cyclist with a vehicle is usually a traffic violation punishable with little more than a fine.
But not Behler. Currently, he is being held without bail, indicted on all charges, and awaiting trial, where he faces over a quarter-century of time behind bars. Behler’s case is part of a slow-but-certain sea change in the way bike safety crimes are prosecuted, thanks to a key piece of evidence: video footage captured by the cyclists.
“We’ve had several cases in which video camera footage has been the difference between mail-in moving violations (traffic tickets) and criminal prosecution,” said Rachel Maney, National Director of Bike Law. In the Maryland case, a cyclist in the group that was hit had a front-facing camera light, which captured video footage of Behler’s vehicle. When the film was shown to the grand jury, Behler was indicted on seven charges, including felony vehicular homicide. Without the footage, the case would have likely fallen apart.
When a driver hits a cyclist with a vehicle, the burden has always been on the vulnerable road user (the cyclist) to prove that the motorist who hit them is responsible for the harm they caused while behind the wheel. Yet when a driver kills a cyclist, there is only one party from whom investigating law enforcement and prosecutors can take a statement. On the civil side of things, insurance companies are interested in protecting their insured’s assets and bottom lines. All of this means that cyclists, from the time the driver hits them with a vehicle, are usually at a disadvantage.
“Having irrefutable video evidence of what occurred is invaluable,” said Maney, who said prosecution of drivers is “easier” with video footage of what occurred. “In many ways technology ushered us into a much more dangerous bicycling climate with the distracted driving epidemic. [But] the right technology can be an integral part of getting us out of this mess as well.”
How to Set Up Your Bike Camera
Get a dedicated bike camera, not an action cam or smartphone mount.
“You want a camera that’s recording the whole ride because you never know when and where something is going to happen,” said Thom Perry of Cycliq. Action cameras and smartphone cameras are great for short-term use (like capturing epic footage of your buddy descending on a mountain bike), but these options lack the battery life and memory card space to capture footage of an entire ride. Today, multiple options exist for recording rides, and many are all-in-one safety packages with a camera as well as a tail light.
Front- or rear-facing?
When it comes to capturing footage, some people will opt for only a rear-facing camera, which captures drivers coming from behind. But front-end collisions can and do happen, like when drivers turn right in front of a bike lane or cross the centerline. If you can, get both front- and rear-facing cameras, said Maney. “If price point is an issue, and I understand why it may be for many, the question I tend to ask is, ‘How do you quantify the value of your life?’ Surviving a bicycle crash can be financially burdensome if the driver who struck you doesn’t have sufficient insurance or if you cannot prove liability or fault.”
The must-have features:
According to Perry, the most usable footage in a legal setting comes from cameras that use a clear wide-angle lens, which captures a bigger field of view. Other musts:
- A clear time and date stamp that is ‘burnt in’ during recording
- Ability to record in low-light settings (like dawn, dusk, or when traveling in the shade)
- Audio recording is also a plus, especially for exchanges that may happen after a crash.
And what to skip:
Though bike cameras like to tout a lot of high-tech features, there’s no need for overkill. Cameras that include 4k sensors just use more battery and storage space for no real added benefit.
Where to mount the bike camera:
Essentially it doesn’t matter where the camera is mounted, as long as it can capture the incident. But for the best footage use fixed mounting points, like your handlebars and seat post. Fixed points allow for distances in the footage to be calculated, which provides another data point to use in building a case against a driver. Cameras mounted on the rider’s chest have the peripherals blocked by the rider’s arms which means things that may be pertinent to a legal case may be unseen. And avoid helmet-mounted cameras, said Perry: “Safety cameras mounted to helmets are actually really dangerous, as they create a snag that can lead to serious injury as well as void any warranties on the helmet itself.”
If a driver hits you with a vehicle:
“First and foremost, the safety and well-being of the bicyclist comes first,” said Maney. Immediately, the attention should be placed on the most pressing concerns, like assessing for injuries and, if possible, getting the driver’s contact information, insurance information, tag number, witness information, and relevant photos.
Though it may be understandable to want to pull out your smartphone and begin recording the driver to get even more video footage, be aware this could add more stress to an already tense situation. “Sometimes it’s a deterrent for perpetuating more conflict,” said Maney. “Other times, an aggressive or irrational driver becomes more agitated and the situation gets worse, not better. In one instance here in Florida, the driver got out of his luxury sedan and pulled out a gun. I worry about things like that these days.”
Let the responding officer know you have a bike camera and have captured video footage. Don’t post on social media without first discussing with a lawyer—this may open you up to charges of harassment, defamation, or invasion of privacy. Most importantly, don’t modify, edit, compress, or otherwise alter the original video file.
“Making sure that your video evidence is preserved is critical,” said Maney. “It isn’t always as helpful as we might hope or think in every crash or incident, but if it is usable, in our experience, it’s been the difference between what feels like nothing and an outcome that resembles justice as much and as closely as possible.”