Today’s hands-free law goes into effect in the State of Georgia, where I live. This is intended to reduce distracted driving and save lives by allowing only hands-free use of cell phones and other devices, which is obviously great news, especially for bike riders and pedestrians who are injured and killed by distracted drivers daily across the USA. However, one little aspect of the law affects me and other bike riders in a negative way that I believe is unintended.
Bike riders are considered vehicles in my state and must follow all the same laws as cars (although we are allowed to ride on multi-use paths, in car-free parks, and in other places where motor vehicles are not allowed). The law states that no driver can record video while operating the vehicle unless it’s a continuously-running dashcam. As you can see in this photo (taken on the next section of the Atlanta Beltline to be built, starting Monday), I wear a GoPro camera in a chest harness when I’m Traveling at the Speed of Bike. That’s how I was able to capture videos such as the one below that shows what it’s like to ride a bike sixteen miles away from the Atlanta Beltline in the supposedly-family-friendly suburb-city where I live to go on my only possible route to the supermarket (which my suburb-city’s Public Works Director used at a national conference to show how suburbia needs to change to provide safer access for all). Please note I’m using Bike Noodle in this video, so the drivers are going slower and giving me more room than they typically do, if you can believe it. You can see dozens of other videos I’ve recorded here.
I push a button to activate my GoPro and then turn it off usually after five to thirty seconds so that I am recording in only short segments as needed (such as if I hear a motor vehicle approaching from behind, or if I suspect I’m about to be harassed or otherwise endangered). Note that even conserving the battery like this, it only lasts for the length of a typical bike ride of mine. The maneuver to push the button does not require me to take my eyes off the road (I never look at the camera at all while riding my bike as the screen is against my body) and is, in fact, less involving than the maneuver to change gears or the motion to use a hand signal. I have made the more-than-1,000 Views from the Handlebars stills from my videos publicly available in my Bonus Resources section for others to use to encourage safer bike infrastructure where they live. (But toss me proper copyright credit, ok? Thanks.)
Not only does the camera help me to record dangers I encounter as a woman alone on a bike (and its mere presence seems to reduce them), video footage such as that captured on sports cameras, used either in a body harness or attached to the helmet or bike, has recently proven to be critical evidence in legal proceedings involving motor vehicle drivers who have hit bike riders (often by making an illegal turn, passing illegally, or intentionally attacking the rider). A top lawyer here in Atlanta has told me that he believes my use of the camera is defensible, but I still don’t like the way the law disregards the existence and necessity of this use of a camera. I would like to see a clarification added to the law that these recording devices, used non-continually, are allowed for those on bikes.
Note to self: Get involved in state laws earlier. Don’t assume others understand or represent your reality.
UPDATE: I just ordered additional batteries so I can try to use the camera on a continuously-running mode while in the streets, which would be legal. I’ll see how that works . . .
See here for links to buy my book, Traveling at the Speed of Bike, on Amazon in all global markets. I’m an indie author and your support is greatly appreciated. A portion of proceeds from the sale of all books is donated to help more women and girls ride bikes. Currently, that means funding my ability to do “Pedal Power with Pattie” Basic Bike Skills Classes for Women for free.