Bicycle crash mobile app

iPhone / Android app idea: automatic crash witness.

Others have recommended post-crash helper apps such as iWrecked for use after a collision. San Jose bicycle advocate Greg McPheeter has an idea for another type of app — one that can be used as an automatic crash witness.

bicycle accident victim

Too often, investigating police officers have a modal bias against cyclists in bicycle vs car crashes. When it’s one person’s word against another, the officer will take the word of the person he most identifies with. In more serious collisions, the only surviving witness is the person inside of the car. In these situations, an automatic collision witness might make a difference in the crash investigation and subsequent insurance and liability payouts.

Greg’s imaginary app runs in the background every time you’re on the bike, recording your speed and position while keeping the last several minutes of video in a continuous loop. The video stops recording when the onboard accelerometers detect a collision or via a panic button on the phone screen. After the crash, data and video about the last several minutes of your bike ride and be collected and given as evidence.

Greg says he’s been thinking of something like this for about five years now and hopes somebody takes his idea to create the app. Every car collision is a case of he said/she said, and in those involving bicycles, the only surviving witness is often the person inside the car.

“It would be awesome the first time it went to trial and someone got nabbed for their inaccurate account of what happened,” says Greg.

Update: A story of GPS tracks and justice from Colorado (via Bike Portland), with a tip of the hat to Examined Spokes. This was a case, literally, of “he said / she said,” when cyclist Ryan Sabga was clobbered in an intersection when a driver ran a stop sign without looking.

The driver lied through her teeth to the police, claiming that Ryan made an illegal diagonal crossing, so the police officer refused to cite the driver. The driver then called her insurance company and claimed the bicyclist was at fault.

It was only after Ryan returned home that he realized the entire episode was recorded on his Garmin GPS!

The full telemetry of my ride came up, including a map and running time stamp of my ride. Clear as day, you could see where I stopped at the stop sign, where I got hit by the car, and where my bike came to rest. On the corresponding time stamp, you could see the speeds, the stops, and even where my heart rate spiked as she hit me. Then you could see when my bike was moved out of the street, then when I picked it up and fixed it and got it back home. All of it was on there.

Greg’s suggestion came up in the wake of the CHP’s finding this week that cyclist Lauren Ward was at fault in her fatal collision with a truck in Los Altos, California.

Dawn Champion crashed her motorcycle into a Honda Civic on Highway 101, the car driver first blamed her for the crash, telling bystanders “She hit me!” A lot of people think “asshat” when they think sport bikes, but the motorcycle rider had her helmetcam running and showed this footage that showed pretty clearly that the car driver swerved directly into her path.



14 Comments

  • December 22, 2010 - 11:34 pm | Permalink

    It’s a good idea, which I believe at least one helmet cam can now already provide: Contour’s “GPS” model stores around eight hours of video and GPS data with a 32 GB chip. Other models I’ve seen only seem to do video.

    You may have also seen the Bike Portland GPS story from yesterday:

    http://bikeportland.org/2010/12/21/from-colorado-a-story-of-gps-justice-44858

  • Andy
    December 22, 2010 - 11:41 pm | Permalink

    Re: helmet cams… what’s the cheapest acceptable quality? I see ads for Heros all over the place, but don’t care to spend $300 on a camera. Does a regular digital camera work so long as a good bracket can be made?

  • December 22, 2010 - 11:53 pm | Permalink

    Flip cameras cost around $125 (street) and record for an hour, if that suits your needs.

  • December 23, 2010 - 12:16 am | Permalink

    @examined – I missed that Colorado GPS story completely! I sometimes keep GPS tracks but didn’t think of a situation where it could verify my story and disprove another — that Colorado one is a perfect example.

    I also didn’t know Contour has a GPS model of their camera.

  • Mr. S.
    December 23, 2010 - 2:46 am | Permalink

    Video and GPS is a good idea for when I go back to Toronto from Tokyo. Toronto is dire for cyclists getting blamed by pigs, and our obese mayor is a cyclist hater. In Tokyo though, the driver is always blamed, right or wrong. Guess what. Tokyo has half the fatalities per capita.

  • December 23, 2010 - 2:52 am | Permalink

    Great post. What a frightening video.

  • Andy
    December 23, 2010 - 3:00 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure a court would take GPS data though. I know with my Garmin, you could easily manipulate the data and save it back on the unit. Unless an officer took it at the scene, it’s not proof

  • December 23, 2010 - 6:40 am | Permalink

    In the BikePortland case, the “case” was resolved quickly by the insurance company because of the GPS, but in conjunction with other evidence. Similarly, GPS data is acceptable in court, but its credibility will depend on a number of factors. GPS data backed up by video may well be a gold standard. Keep in mind, too, that civil cases have much lower proof standards than criminal ones. What would fail for “beyond a reasonable doubt” is perfectly good for other purposes.

  • December 23, 2010 - 2:59 pm | Permalink

    You can get decent video from a $10 “spy cam”.

    http://cycledallas.blogspot.com/2010/09/revenge-of-scotsman.html

  • Andy
    December 23, 2010 - 4:10 pm | Permalink

    Awesome. The video quality seems fine, especially for such a cheap camera. Just bought one on ebay for $10, and I already have a 2gb micro SD card that I got from a blackberry I found smashed on the road last week. Hopefully 2gb is enough? I see 8gb card online for $12 anyway.

  • December 23, 2010 - 5:34 pm | Permalink

    Yea – but the GoPros are so damned much fun!

    Actually – the $300 price tags are for the High Def models. You can get a standard definition model of the GoPro helmet cam for about $100

    http://www.goprocamera.com/products/sd-hero-170-camera.php

  • Andy
    December 23, 2010 - 5:46 pm | Permalink

    Oh cool. I guess I always clicked the first advertised link which went to the best one. $100 + 20 for a bike mount isn’t too bad. Maybe if I find the cheap MD80 useful but not great I would consider this. Wide angle and waterproof are great features. I’d love to clip one on to my windsurfing gear too.

    Between bike polo, commutes, windsurfing, and xc skiing, I think a camera would be pretty neat. Just throw together some clips to make quick videos, or use the commute videos to make better police reports.

  • Andy
    December 23, 2010 - 5:50 pm | Permalink

    Good and bad I guess. A driver could just as easily provide fake GPS data to “prove” that they came to a stop. I carry my GPS on nearly every non-commute ride, mostly because I like making a big map of all my combined data.

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