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From Denver, a story of GPS justice

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on December 21st, 2010 at 12:13 pm

A friend (thanks Matt!) shared a story with me today that I felt some of you would appreciate. It's about justice being served thanks to a GPS unit...

A few weeks ago, professional cyclist Ryan Sabga got hit by a car while on a training ride in Denver. Sabga was legally crossing the street when a woman sped into the intersection without looking in front of her. Sabga came away relatively unscathed and the woman stayed at the scene until police arrived. Both parties gave their version of the story, and Sabga realized the woman was not telling the truth about how it happened.

Here's an excerpt from a blog post by Sabga on his team's website:

".. what was a simple accident and a case of a motorist not seeing a cyclist was becoming something worse. The police officer said that without proof that I came from the stop sign and not from the Starbucks, he couldn’t write her a citation and without a citation I probably would not be able to get the damage to my bike repaired."

Without witnesses, the police officer said there was nothing else he could do. Sabga was "really disappointed" by the whole situation.

But then, he realized his Garmin GPS unit had been on his bike the whole time. He went home and downloaded the file and sure enough,

"... 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... you could see the speeds, the stops, and even where my heart rate spiked as she hit me...All of it was on there."

Once he notified the insurance, everything fell into place, "Within a day, the driver’s insurance took responsibility for the accident and I was able to get my bike fixed."

I don't ride with a GPS unit and I never would have imagined they could come into play in situations like this. Perhaps this will usher in a whole new marketing campaign for GPS makers who can tout the units as bicycle black box recorders.

Has anyone else had a similar experience? Read the full account of Sabga's story here.

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  • Bjorn December 21, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    Shouldn't the driver also be charged with making a false police report? I guess they will probably just claim to have remembered it their own way but considering the attempt to dodge financial responsibility it seems like more that just having what should have happened in the first place (the bike being fixed) is warranted.

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  • JK12 December 21, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    Yes, Bjorn, she should, but according to the full story, the police were reluctant to even bother with the Garmin info. She should also be charged with insurance fraud, but don't hold your breath. She's getting off without any real consequences.

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  • El Biciclero December 21, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    GPS "black box" would be an awesome tool to end the "he said/she said" discrepancies between accounts after an accident. I was thinking just the other day that motor vehicles should be required to have them, and they should be required to be surrendered after any accident that involves an injury or property damage above some (very low) threshold. There would have to be legal protections against using such units to "track" vehicle movements on a whim, but all pericrashular data should be immediately available after an "incident".

    Bjorn--I suppose any falsehoods perpetuated by the motorist involved would be chalked up to it-all-happened-so-fast memory failures, not willful bending of the facts.

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    • El Biciclero December 21, 2010 at 12:31 pm

      "accident"? Did I say "accident"? I meant "collision"...

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    • CaptainKarma December 22, 2010 at 9:57 pm

      I believe the latest model cars do have black boxes...not gps, per se, but they do record the last 20 seconds or so in a loop, of vehicle speed, gas or brake applied, seat belt & air bag status, stuff like that. Supposedly for "crash survivability research". I think in GM cars with OnStar, it even sends the data in to "someone". OTOH, getting the police to use it, well....first off, if the vehicle drives away, the data gets overwritten immediately. Secondly, one probbly needs a subpoena to get at it. Thirdly, PPB policy is to not even respond unless there's an estimated $1500 damage, which in a personal injury event should be automatic of course. But still, most times they have the attitude that there's "more important" things they'd rather be doing (VooDoo donuts comes to mind).

      In any case, the driver can at least be civil-sued I would think, in this case.

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  • Bjorn December 21, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    Yeah, I know it isn't the kind of thing that would really happen, especially in Colorado, but the headline said Justice, and I'd classify it more as a lower amount of injustice than initially occurred...

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  • Tourbiker December 21, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    I was also thinking this could be an awesome tool for law enforcement in all kinds of situations.

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  • Matt Haughey December 21, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    The part that struck a chord with me (and why I sent it to Jonathan) was when the driver insists the cyclist not only came out of another place, but also should be cited for it!

    This happened to a friend of mine when I was teen, we were in the street on our bikes, a motorist got angry at having to wait for us and gunned it and hit him (he was fine), and when the police arrived they took the adult driver's word and issued my friend a ticket. We ended up going to traffic court to fight it and I guess the judge didn't like a bunch of unruly pissed teens and ended up not only finding my friend guilty but also gave him a suspension of his drivers license for 30 days.

    Said friend had a father that happened to be a superior court judge in another county from where this happened and he ended up calling up the traffic court judge and not only getting the suspension and ruling dismissed but the traffic court judge had to apologize to my friend.

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  • Spiffy December 21, 2010 at 12:57 pm

    looks like I need to start having my GPS on all rides, not just the midnight ones... I just usually don't carry it because it's one more thing I have to take into businesses when I park...

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    • Ryan Good December 22, 2010 at 10:42 am

      +1, my friend. I get so sick of having to remove everything on my bike that isn't bolted down every time I lock up and go in somwhere. Imagine if every time drivers parked and left their vehicle they had to...
      -remove and carry their headlights...
      -remove and carry their tail-lights...
      -lock each wheel to the frame of their car...
      -remove and carry their spedometer
      -remove and carry their odometer...
      -remove and carry their spare tire, jack, and assorted tire changing tools...
      -etc., etc.- you get the point.
      Sorry, off topic and venting, but still...

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  • David Haines December 21, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    I've been recording video of some trips with the black-box idea in mind.

    Of course the one (recent) time it would've been really helpful, I wasn't wearing the camera. But a few months back there was a minor close-call where I just made eye contact with the person driving, smiled, and pointed at the camera. Her expression instantly went from angry to wide-eyed, and she tilted away for the rest of the encounter. I didn't mean to scare her, just point out that her actions were on the record.

    On one hand it bugs me that our society is so surveilled, on the other I wonder how to use it productively. For as often as we're imperiled by people using technology in their cars, I'm more and more inclined to strap it on and keep a record of what happens on the road.

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  • Benjamin December 21, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    Ummm... She was obviously lying. In order to know where the cyclist came from, she would have had to see the cyclist before entering the intersection. Why would the police pay any attention to such obvious BS? When I am Emperor of the post-zombie-apocalyptic world, failure to apply logic will be a serious crime.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) December 21, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    Thanks for the comments everyone. Yes, I guess the fact that the police ignored the facts once they were made available is perhaps just as amazing as the GPS aspect of the story.

    On that note, it's good to know that if this happened in Oregon, Sabga could have utilized the "citizen initiation of violation proceedings" law and brought the cop and the woman into court to prove his case.

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  • Ely December 21, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    El Biciclero
    pericrashular

    my new favorite word...

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  • Jeff December 21, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    this happend locally to a member of the Rose City racing team out at North Plains a few years back. He had to take it all the way to the Oregon appellate court and won, using GPS data. His ticket was for running a stop sign he didn't run.

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  • Thomas Le Ngo December 21, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    I was cut off by another cyclist this summer and my GPS showed the abrupt stop from 20+ to 0 MPH in about a second.

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  • JK12 December 21, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    Actually, the more I think about this, the more I think I'd call whoever regulates insurance in Colorado and report her for insurance fraud. Vindictive? Maybe, but she caused what could have been a horrible accident and it's not really going to affect her life at all.

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  • Refunk December 21, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    Very cool use of the Garmin gizmo. Good for Sabga.

    Don't late-model cars (or maybe just some particular class, like passenger, etc.) already have "black boxes" which continuously record the last x minutes of control operation and parameters (gears, brakes, speed, etc.)? Seems that adding GPS to the mix would be trivial, except for the privacy aspects, only I think surrendering data from the current black boxes requires a warrant already, so that shouldn't be such an issue.

    I use a GPS tracker (a SPOT whatchamacallit, no display, HR or speed - it's principally for my sweetheart to be able to track me) for longer rides but am unsure whether its resolution would be as useful as Sabga's Garmin in a similar sitch. I think that now I want the Garmin for this!

    (...well, beside an anti-auto rocket pod accessory and Kevlar underwear)

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  • ilikeyournewhaircut December 21, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    You can get some pretty cheap GPS type apps for the iPhone, I use B.iCycle.

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    • Thomas Le Ngo December 22, 2010 at 9:09 am

      Apps suck up battery life way too quickly. That's why I got a Garmin.

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  • Tacoma December 21, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    What is the minimum GPS tracking device that would be useful in cases such as these?

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  • Brent December 21, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    In the 2008 Mandeville Canyon case out of Los Angeles, the riders' GPS units were used to determine speed at the time of impact. At trial, this evidence was introduced to show that they were riding at the speed limit (around 29 mph in a 30 mph zone), and that the driver had to exceed the speed limit to pass them. The evidence provided a vital link in the case.

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  • Gabriel Amadeus December 21, 2010 at 5:03 pm

    Wow, so many cool insights in the article and comments. Lot's of reasons to use a gps rather than a cyclocomputer.

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  • anon December 21, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    The 'refresh' rate for a recording device will need to be high enough to appropriately show the changes that occur in a collision

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  • Todd Boulanger December 21, 2010 at 5:38 pm

    Looks (sadly) like a great reason to alway ride with an gps camcorder for bikes like: contour, etc.

    http://contour.com/camera/contour_gps

    Perhaps insurance companies will someday offer a discount to cyclists and motorcyclists.

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    • Duncan December 23, 2010 at 6:00 am

      Damn that is sweet.

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    • Pete December 23, 2010 at 9:05 am

      Thanks for this link Todd! I had a similar idea (data overlay) for cycle training, an ANT+ receiver that puts speed, cadence, power, HR, and grade onto video for post-ride analysis. I've entered it into a few 'idea' contests (like Oregon Scientific) but it's pretty niche.

      I ride with a Garmin 705 and illustrated facts to a policeman with it once who said I was "speeding through the cars" (that were corking the bike lane illegally to get around construction he was working at). He got ticked off that I yelled at a guy that pulled into me without looking or signalling, and even apologized to the driver! Apparently policemen in California don't know that there's a law here requiring their use.

      It's true that sampling rate matters, and with the Garmin the speed interpolation from position is pretty inaccurate so it helps to have a magnetic sensor. I bought it when I moved here so I could find my way around (using the maps isn't the greatest), but got into the habit of tracking every ride so I could upload the data to http://plus3network.com for charity.

      Happy Holidays Y'all - ride safe Portland!

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  • Kevin Turinsky December 21, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    Wow. I never thought I'd actually want to be using a GPS. Now it really seems like a good idea.

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  • malka December 21, 2010 at 9:33 pm

    Based on personal experience with so-called law enforcement, I'm not a bit surprised by the apathy of the cop. He probably wouldn't have accepted the information on the GPS since it's not considered "eyewitness" testimony.

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  • JK12 December 21, 2010 at 10:08 pm

    Malka, that's another good reason to get a gps camcorder if you can... you can film the police's "work". I was sure glad I had my camera rolling the day I was told "Well that's how the law is going to work *today*". But I guess we're getting off topic here.

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  • Andy December 22, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    I wouldn't assume that a court would accept GPS data though... With a Garmin unit (& probably others), you can download the data, modify the file, and save it back on the device. There's nothing to prove that it was fabricated unless the officer were to take the GPS at the scene.

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    • Seth Alford December 23, 2010 at 7:47 am

      A gps helmet cam, such as the contour gps mentioned above, might be proof enough that the gps data was not faked. Because if the gps data were faked, the video would not match.

      When I bought my contour, the gps version wasn't available.

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  • One Less :( December 27, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    Legally speaking, if the insurance company takes "responsibility", that probably doesn't assume guilt of the party. Although if I was Ryan, I would consult an attorney.

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  • I am the engine December 29, 2010 at 11:54 am

    A permanently mounted small video camera is a better alternative, also half the price.

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  • Rhubarb December 29, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    Put an RFID or some other electronic ID tag on license renewal tags. Any pedestrian or bicyclist could carry a basic 'black box' that records ID tags within a close proximity in a memory buffer, and any time a accelerometer in the box is triggered, a tag is place in the memory and the data is saved.

    Instant hit and run prosecution tool. Not that anyone will ever give a damn enough to make it happen.

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  • Lombard Street December 31, 2010 at 6:51 pm

    Filing a claim with an insurance company is hardly "justice" but then, Jonathan Maus is hardly a "journalist." The rider should swear-out legal complaints against the driver for lying to investigators and her traffic violations, and should make a formal complaint to police internal affairs for nonfeasance.

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  • drew July 25, 2012 at 2:22 am

    A rear camera is important. It will record the license plate and provide an image of the driver. Without a driver ID you may not be able to do anything. When I was purposefully knocked off the road into a ditch in california, and a following driver recorded the license plate number, it turned out the cops wouldnt lift a finger unless I could ID the driver. I think the law is the same here.

    I want a front+rear camera (or 360 degree) with continual recording, running off my hub generator, and blinking red lights to signal that recording is going on, all designed into a helmet. If that showed up on Kickstarter, I would be the first backer. And I would always wear my helmet since it would make it much more useful.

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    • Seth Alford July 30, 2012 at 8:18 pm

      I like your proposed helmet camera, except for the connection to the hub generator. I've heard that being tethered to the bicycle in an accident is bad. I'm not sure why it is bad.

      In addition to your features, maybe minus the hub generator hookup, I would like it to interact with my smart phone. I want to use the smart phone as a video player and/or viewfinder. That way I can say, "yes, officer, this person really did threaten/hit me with their car/whatever, see I have the video right here."

      Additionally I want the phone and camera combination to periodically upload camera video to a web site, automatically. So, every 10 minutes it uploads. But it uploads immediately if the phone's gps detects no movement. That way if things go really, really badly, the aggressive driver who has gotten out of his car can take the helmet cam, but the video remains beyond his reach.

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