SÃO PAULO - Eight cyclists surround a black car stopping at a red light on Paulista Avenue, a major thoroughfare in São Paulo. The driver, who the cyclists had spotted committing traffic infractions, is told that he is being filmed. He immediately speeds away from the bikes -- running the red light. He hits a moped, which crashes, and continues his escape without checking what happened.
The one-and-half-minute video has begun to circulate on the Internet and across social media in Brazil. It zooms in on both the driver’s face and his license plate. It was recorded with a small camera attached to a cyclist’s helmet, a feature that is becoming more and more common among the bike-riding contingent of São Paulo.
According to cycle-activist Daniel Labadia, from Institute CicloBR, cameras have suddenly become popular in the past two months, catching on to a technique used by bicycle riders elsewhere. “The main goal is to unveil drivers’ infractions against cyclists,” he says. The equipment costs about 900 reais ($450).
Cases of traffic accidents that kill cyclists are well-known in São Paulo. In March this year, a biologist was run over by a bus in Paulista Avenue.
Some specialists say this use of cameras risks shaming drivers and causing an overall increase in aggressive behavior on the road. "Trying to impose good manners on the drivers doesn’t lead to good results," says José Almeida Sobrinho, from the Brazilian Institute of Traffic Sciences.
Privacy claims don't hold up
Folha checked some videos and noticed most of them show faces and license plates, but only one of them showed the actual infraction.
Ademar Gomes, president of Acrimesp (Association of Criminal-Law Attorneys from Sao Paulo State), considers it legal to film drivers and expose them on the Internet. "If the driver was responsible for the accident and did it in public space, I see no problem. In case he sues the cyclist, he will lose, because he was on the streets," he says.
Among the cycling video activists are:
*Blogger Silvia Ballan, 40, a cyclist for 25 years, has posted more than 30 videos on YouTube, but she avoids showing license plates.
*Marketing manager Caio Spinola, 28, who filmed the Paulista Avenue scene referred to above, has carried his camera for eight months, but posted this video only in an attempt to help the hurt moped rider.
*University student Rafael Darrouy, 26, from Vitória (Espírito Santo state), created the Web page "Ciclista Capixaba", where he has posted 32 videos. He had the idea after being hit by a car, which ran over his bike. "I thought: if I had a camera, I would have evidence for suing him." Since then, he has taken one driver to court.
*Laura Sobenes, 25, who used her cell phone camera to record a bus driver who ran a red light and then threatened her: “You are the one who’s going to die; I will just have to sign the police report.” The case became notorious, and the driver was suspended.