Tuesday 21 August 2012

Camera Reviews

On my cycling commutes I like to record the action around me onto camera.  Over the last several months I have been experimenting with different cameras.  Different users will have different uses and purposes but, for what it is worth I tender my thoughts on the cameras I have tried.

Veho Muvi with sports kit.

Basic cheap camera with, I think, very reasonable quality of vision and sound for the price.  Ease of editing files is, for me, very important as I do not wish to spend all day reviewing and editing files.  The Veho records onto 30 minute files of around 635MB.  A relatively  low capacity (4 or 8 GB) SD card will therefore take many hours of video, which can be easily cropped using Microsoft Moviemaker.
The limiting feature for my commute is the battery life.  Although sometimes advertised at 2 hours I have never had this long on any of my Muvi cameras.  More like 1 to 1 1/4 hours and this deteriorates with age.  Mine generally last about a year before the battery life is so low I change the camera (the batteries are not replaceable and the units are relatively cheap).  I bought my last one from Amazon for about £40.  I did buy one once when the colour was all off but it was replaced without drama.
The sports kit enables me to place it in a 'shell' that attaches to a strap which can be run around the vents of a helmet if you wear one or attached to the bike.  Be sure though to secure something through the little eye on the camera itself in case it falls out of its shell.

Daytime example:  Film used to convict Scott Lomas of threatening/abusive words and behaviour.

Quality at night is obviously diminished but still useable and better than nothing.
Nighttime example.  Film used to convict Levi Rayner of careless driving (and caution for threatening/abusive words and behaviour).

The camera does struggle when pointing towards the sun.  Since I live southwest of where I work this is a particular problem for me and calling out the number plate is always advisable as a backup.

Likes: Inexpensive.  Ease of operation.  Ease of preparing files.  Usable quality of video/audio..
Dislikes: Short battery life, not good in wet.


The police cycle team spoke highly of this camera when I spent a half day with them last November and, thinking them to be experts, I ordered one.  The bullet camera is mounted onto the side of a helmet (or onto googles) and a lead is run from there to the central unit.  After a bit of experimenting I decided the best thing to do was place the unit in a freezer bag and drop it down the front of my jersey hoping it did not migrate too far (or pawing at myself trying to encourage it one way rather than another).  The controls were out of reach but since I set the camera to run and left it that was not a great problem.
I never got on with this device.  The advertised battery life of 2 hours+ never materialised for me.  Mine lasted 1h19m.  I tried a new battery: same result.  The unit then started to record sound but no vision.  When I sent it back the replacement had a blank screen with just a narrow strip at the top.  The screen is used for the controls and settings and not just for playback so that unit had to go back too.  Picture quality was ok but I was expecting greater things of HD.  File sizes were bigger and harder to edit and to play.  I had to download software to play the files.
One further considerable annoyance was that the computer cable was non-standard size, meaning I had to carry the cable around with me or use only my work or only my home computer.
I did not use it for long but here is an example picture.  As you can see night time quality was not great:

Likes:  None (though the Met Police like it)
Dislikes: Expensive.  Hard to use.  Unreliable.  Not great quality (especially for HD).

Justice camera issued by 'Policewitness'

I was loaned a Justice camera to review and I have to say that once I got used to using it I have been favourably impressed.  The first camera I was sent did keep shutting down unexpectedly but a replacement was fine and it is possible that the fault lay in the SD card I was using rather than the camera.  Picture quality in daytime is good though at night mediocre.  The camera can be set to record in files that are whatever length you wish.  The default is only 60 seconds which is too short as the film skips half a second between files and this is always at a critical moment.
It is easy to use.  Just two buttons on it and the back screws off to reveal the standard mini USB port and SD card slot with a reset button (which is quite frequently needed to 'reboot' the camera).
The camera comes with mounts for helmet and bike frame though I had to rig something together for a rear view as the frame attachment only adjusts in one dimension (which leaves it pointing down if attached to a seat tube)..
Battery life is comfortably sufficient for my 2 hour commute.  For reliable use though I find that I do need to use a 16GB SD card.
One thing I do like about this camera is that (like the Veho but unlike the Contour) it has a similar focal length to the human eyeball so what you see on the film is much as it looks in real life.
Example, the driver of this van was required to attend a driver improvement course:

Like the Veho it struggles when pointing towards the sun (this vehicle remained unidentified) and nightime use is not great either

Another minor irritiation is that, I find, the time and date needs to be reset at regular intervals if you wish it to remain accurate.

I find it very good as a rear view camera (though you will see a skip here):

The idea of policewitness is to engage an enterprising ex-police officer to report road crime and shove the police into taking action.  Shame it has come to that but, given the level of interest in most police forces in prosecuting bad driving, I fear that it has.  Google 'Policewitness' for further details.

Likes: Ease of use, picture quality (daytime), battery life, focal length.
Dislikes: Skips between files, occasionally needs resetting, time/date drifts off.

Contour Roam

Well this I thought ought to be the bee's knees and youtube is full of cyclists (like the famous Gaz) who use and recommend it.  It can be fitted to a helmet but is relatively bulky and I fit to the bike frame.  It records in files that are approximately half an hour long and absolutely gynormous. (3.66GB).  I will only play with these files if I feel I absolutely have to and have only managed to send the police stills when reporting an incident.  Contour provides some software called 'Storyteller' which is basically useless.  you can see the files but not edit them and I can not even get their 'Awesome' feature (whereby you should be able to upload part of a file to youtube) to work.
Only the Windows MovieMaker on my newest computer (latest version) can handle the .mov files and these take overnight to load before stills or shorter clips can be taken.
So this camera gives you the highest quality but at the expense of useability.  If you have the patience to spend hours editing your film footage then this is the camera for you.
One serious drawback though is that the lens is very wide angle.  this means you will not miss much in the fisheye world but that, when you show the police footage of a vehicle passing 6 inches from you, they will have every excuse to say 'that was not so close'.

Likes: Picture quality.  Ease of use (of camera)
Dislikes: Ease of use of files.  Fisheye effect.  Pricey.  Software.


I use the Justice camera a great deal and have it set up rear facing on my commuter bike.  I have the Contour forward facing on the handlebars but because i would much rather not have to look at those files I back this up with the old cheap but good value Muvi camera on the front.

Wednesday 1 August 2012

Joao Lopes Sentence

This afternoon I joined Kate Cairns, the admirable woman who has campaigned so tirelessly to prevent others sharing the fate of her sister Eilidh who was run down and killed by a lorry driven by Lopes in Notting Hill in February 2009, together with a representative of Roadpeace and a Cairns family friend, at Isleworth Crown Court.  We were there to see Lopes sentenced for the crimes of (1) causing the death by dangerous driving of Ms Nora Gutmann, an elderly pedestrian whom Lopes ran down in June 2011 with a lorry on a light controlled pedestrian crossiing  near Madame Tussauds on Euston Road and (2) falsifying data from the tachograph of the lorry he was driving.
I could have spent the first day of the long legal vacation watching Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome winning medals in the Olympic Time Trial but I am glad that I instead spent time seeing a case of the type I regularly comment upon.  As a mere member of the public I struggled even to remain in the Courtroom - but this is not the place for me to express my views on the importance that Justice is dispensed openly and publicly.
The simplified facts were that Lopes did not see Ms Gutmann on the pedestrian crossing when he moved off once the lights had changed in his favour.  He was not wearing the glasses that he was required to wear as a condition of his licence following his conviction of driving with uncorrected defective vision which resulted from the investigation, such as it was, that followed the death of Eilidh in February 2009.  When the police drove the lorry away from the accident scene they noticed that the tachograph had been induced to record that the vehicle was at rest.  This had the effect of disabling both the speedometer and the milometer and would have prevented the brakes from applying automatically in the event of an emergency.  Chillingly the magnet was then stolen from the lorry when it was in the police compound, though there is no way of knowing whether Lopes or his employer was responsible for this.
The relevance of Eilidh's death was of course that it made it plain to Lopes that he needed glasses to drive and one would have thought that tragedy would be a sobering experience for any driver regardless of whether or not the police investigation had demonstrated fault on his part.  Yet his subsequent driving record was appalling.  In July 2009 he drove into the rear of another vehicle causing £3,000 worth of damage.  In August 2010 he was involved in a collision though he disputes this was his fault and the Judge therefore rightly disregarded it.  In March 2011 he collided with a parked motor vehicle and failed to stop, as a consequence of which he was dismissed by his then employer.  In June 2011, shortly before he killed Ms Gutmann, he attempted to overtake a minicab so closely that he removed the wing mirror.
His solicitor argued that since none of these incidents had resulted in any conviction they should be disregarded but the Judge wisely disagreed.
His best mitigation was that he had, in interview, come clean over the fact that he had not been wearing his glasses and the effect that imprisonment was having on his family.
The sentence was 4 years imprisonment for the causing death by dangerous driving with disqualification from driving for 6 years following which he would be required to take an extended driving test.  On the tachograph matter he was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment to be served concurrently (i.e 4 years in total).
My own take on this is how very bad we are at preventing needless tragedies on the roads.  I say no more about the admitted deficiencies of the original investigation into Eilidh's death.  The July 2009, March 2011 and June 2011 events are all strongly suggestive of driving offences that merited (at least) points on a licence but it is no surprise that no prosecutions followed these damage only incidents, let alone any near misses there might have been.  Equally it seems implausible that Lopes's employers were unaware that the tachograph on their vehicle was being disabled, yet no action appears to have been taken to ensure that that particular haulier was closed down.
Both Eilidh's and Nora's families have been very generous in their forgiveness, preferring that Lopes never drive again than that he go to prison for a prolonged period.  Their joint press release deserves all the publicity it can get and I reproduce it below.  It is perhaps to be hoped that one day the Court of Appeal will revisit their caution over prolonged and even lifelong driving ban, as technology develops to make such bans more reliably enforceable.

The remainder of this post is the families' press release:


In a momentous week for cycling when Great Britain's first 2012 Olympic medal has gone to Lizzie Armistead in the women's road race, and Bradley Wiggins became the first Briton ever to be crowned Tour de France champion, families of the nation's everyday cyclists live with fear.  

The failure on the part of authorities to properly protect cyclists and pedestrians on our streets, or to treat these deaths as real crime, is a cause for shame not pride. The families of two victims today stand together to demand better.

They are calling for the Judge at Isleworth Crown Court to permanently revoke the license of Joao Lopes, 56, who has killed not one, but two Londoners. He is to be sentenced today for death by dangerous driving after he killed youthful, fit and active 97 year old Nora Gutman, at a pedestrian crossing in Marlebone.

Shockingly, Lopes had already killed before, but had not been prevented from driving again. In February 2009, Eilidh Cairns, 30, died after being knocked off her bike from behind, run over, and crushed by Lopes' truck. Eilidh, a TV producer, was a strong and experienced cyclist who did a daily 20 mile commute and knew of the dangers of HGVs.

The police found no connection between Eilidh's death and the actions of the driver.  Lopes pleaded guilty to the minor charge brought of driving with uncorrected defective vision. He was fined £200 pounds, given three points on his licence and permitted to carry on driving a tipper lorry.

Police later admitted the investigation had been substandard and carried out a full review following the death of Ms Gutman but the CPS again decided that no charge would be brought with respect to Ms Cairns' death.  Lopes went on to have at least three more driving collisions before finally killing Nora Gutman whilst driving without his glasses. He also pleaded guilty to a tachograph offence.

There is a shocking disconnect between our national pride and support for the cyclists representing our country in competition and the inherent complacency about the slaughter of cyclists and pedestrians on our streets. HGVs are involved in more than 50% of deaths of London's cyclist and yet make up less than 4% of road traffic. Twice as many pedestrians were killed by HGV than cyclists in the first decade of this century.

And yet, dangerous drivers generally do not have their licences revoked after fatal collisions. Only three drivers were given a lifetime ban in 2011. If Lopes is banned for life today it will be two deaths too late.

Kate Cairns, sister of Eilidh, set up the See Me Save Me campaign to eliminate the blind spots in lorries.

Kate says: The defence of most drivers involved in the death of vulnerable road users is that they simply didn't see them. This is not good enough. We have affordable technology such as cameras and sensors which eliminate blind spots. It is installed on new cars to protect bumpers so why do we value the life of a cyclist less than the sheen of a bumper? We need to re-evaluate the focus on victim blaming. More pedestrians are killed by HGVs than cyclists, but the government doesn't urge pedestrians to wear high vis and helmets. The danger is posed by huge clumsy vehicles driven blind in tiny shared spaces. Focus has to be on the vehicle that poses the greatest risk, the trucks, and the responsibility to manage the risk has to be proportionate.

It is clear that the justice system in Eilidh’s case failed to respond properly and Lopes was allowed to carry on driving. If it is decided he will be kept off the road today it will be a great relief but it is too late for Nora, and too late for Eilidh. We need to treat road crime as real crime.  We need proper and competent police investigation that is transparent and accountable. We need to afford cyclists and pedestrians the protection of the law, just like any citizen.

Stricter liability, as in so many other countries, would incentivise employers to equip their drivers properly and to train them to do the job asked of them. It would also ensure truck companies and construction clients set and enforce proper standards and best practice. All we are asking is that the legal system is such that people on our streets are not at danger of death and maiming from commercial activities. HGVs are mobile places of work.

Having campaigned for three years since Eilidh's death so others do not have to die I am here because of the death of another amazing woman, Nora Gutman, who was run over by the same kind of truck by the same driver. None of us should be here to today and that includes Lopes. Blind spot danger could have and should have been designed out. Because our transport and justice systems tolerate risk on our roads, my family and the Gutmans are shattered, whilst that of Lopes will suffer his imprisonment. No-one should have had to suffer, least of all Nora and my sister.

Victim impact statement from the family of Nora Gutmann

Though 97, Nora Gutmann was still youthful when she died. She was still healthy, still living on her own, still totally independent. We all looked forward to many years left with her. She was also still totally engaged in living, learning, growing. She listened to various engaging programmes on the BBC on a regular basis, read voraciously and has, for many years, been enrolled and engaged at the University of the Third Age -- a school for retired people where she had signed up for a course in Buddhism for the fall term. Nora was also a deeply forgiving person. I don’t think she would have wanted Joao Lopes to be sent to prison, or to deprive his family of a breadwinner. As a family we don’t feel a desire for retribution against Lopes. We have been informed by the police that Lopes may drive again, and could even get his Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) license back at some point. We find the possibility that Lopes could ever drive again to be completely outrageous. Lopes killed Eilidh Cairns, a 30 year old experienced cyclist in 2009. He continued driving dangerously after that, having at least three more driving collisions before killing Nora, and shockingly there was no system in place to monitor this dangerous behavior or to take him off the roads. We ask the court to do everything in its power to protect the public and prevent Lopes from ever again getting behind the wheel of any vehicle.

MOPAC Survey

MOPAC, the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime, just emailed me inviting me to complete a questionnaire on where I consider that the Metropolitan Police's priorities should lie.  I have indicated that I would like to see steps taken to make bad driving easier to report and more likely to be prosecuted.  If you are affected by policing in London you may like to know that there questionnaire is here