Making a good Op Snap report

What is Op Snap?

In most of the UK cyclists can report bad or dangerous driving captured on their helmet cam to police, via an Op Snap portal. Not all UK police forces allow this, though. In Scotland, police remain determined to lag decades behind the times with regards to helmet cam video submissions.

Why make a report at all?

If you’ve ever had a dangerous, close overtake from a driver, while out cycling, then you’ll know how scary it can be. In the UK, the Highway Code explicitly states drivers should give cyclists at least 1.5 metres overtaking gap, when driving at speeds of up to 30mph, and more space if driving faster.

Sadly, thousands of drivers refuse to do just that, and the only way to get those drivers to change their behaviour, is to report them. In my mind, all cyclists have an implied duty of care towards other cyclists and we should all report bad drivers, so they can be forced to change their ways. Before they kill someone.

Can you make a poor report?

Absolutely! Most of us aren’t legal experts, and we very often don’t understand the legal process. That begins with the statement we give when making an Op Snap report. A poor statement can allow a driver too much room to create reasonable doubt, and reasonable doubt is all that’s needed for them to get away with bad driving.

Making a good Op Snap report

There is no magical one-size-fits all solution. Every incident is unique, so every report about such an incident will be unique, too. However, there are a number of points that can be common across almost all good Op Snap statements. I compiled the list below with the help of PC Mark Hodson, the award-winning police officer who initiated the entire Op Snap.

  • Always start your report be stating what the weather was like. Was visibility good, or not so good?
  • Especially in cases of poor visibility, or at night, explain what you did to ensure you were as visible as possible.
  • Mention the road, in detail. How wide is it? (Go and measure, if uncertain, and reasonably and safely possible). What is the road surface like? Are there road furniture, potholes, or other markings that allow you to narrow down distances to absolute values? Mention the speed limit, and whether or not that changes anywhere near the location.
  • Explain about your camera. Where was it mounted? Remember, a camera centrally mounted (like on your helmet) will show footage that needs to take into account the width of your body, and your bike. Do make a point of explaining that your camera was fully functional (unless it wasn’t, obviously).
  • Do mention how the incident made you feel, both at the time, as well as afterwards.
  • Talk about the environment around the incident. For example, were there many pedestrians around? Was the road busy, or quiet? Was it near a school, a hospital, a care home or a nursery-school? Were there any other cyclists around? Was it anywhere that would make a reasonable and competent driver slow down?
  • If you know the road well, say so, and explain why you know it well.
  • Tell them about you. If you have a driving licence, say so. If you’ve had any cycling training, mention it. If you’re an experienced rider, say how many miles/week you normally do. Also consider telling them how many miles you drive per year.
  • Whenever possible, give the reactions of other road users to the incident.
  • Never lie!
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There are several things you are trying to establish, beginning with your training and experience to be a safe and competent road user. You’re also trying to reduce any wiggle room the driver might have to create reasonable doubt. Finally, you are trying to establish a baseline of you as a safe and competent road user, and the driver as the opposite of that.

The (not so) secret sauce

Let’s be clear: Op Snap requires video. More than that, it requires the video to be clear, to clearly show the reg number of the offending driver’s vehicle, and should show and relevant road signs and/or markings. All of that needs to be of a standard that would stand up to scrutiny in court.

That begins with your camera: buy the one with the best video quality you can get, and try to get one that has digital anti-shaking built in. Ideally, have two cameras – one facing forward, and one facing to the rear. It will also help if part of your bike is in view of the camera.

I always call out the reg number of drivers I may do a report for, but at very least Devon & Cornwall Police are unlikely to accept video of poor quality, with an illegible reg number, even when you clearly called out the number.

A canned report

As I said before, every report will be unique, but you can create your own template report to help you cover all these points each time. Obviously you will need to edit the canned text to reflect the realities of each unique report, but items like your driving and cycling training will remain constant.

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Here’s my new canned text. Feel free to modify it to suit your own unique circumstances.

This is a report of an incident that occurred on <date> at <time>. At the time, I was a cyclist, riding along <road name> in a <direction> direction, heading towards <nearby area/landmark>.

The incident occurred during the <day/night/early morning/late evening> and the weather was <dry and bright/dry and overcast/raining/foggy/etc>. Visibility was <excellent/good/poor>. 
I was dressed in <describe your clothes, eg black, as it contrasts well against a pale background, blue as it contrasts well against a green background, etc>. At the time of the incident, I believe the measures I took to make myself as visible as is reasonable were effective. <describe those measures>.
<If at night, or during poor visibility, describe what lights, reflectors and reflectives you had on the bike>.

I was cycling in <primary/secondary> position <explain briefly how far from the kerb or edge of the lane> because <explain why you were in primary, eg "I was riding past parked cars, and as per official governmental training, I was cycling clear of the door zone">.

The road I was cycling on had/didn't have a cycle lane and I was/wasn't riding in a marked cycle lane <consider explaining why not, and remember the use of cycle lanes is not compulsory>. The road is approximately x metres wide, with <number of lanes> lanes in each direction. The road surface was <smooth/rough/dry/wet/oily/potholed/etc>. The speed limit along that road is <speed limit> for at least <x distance> in each direction. 

The road was <very busy/reasonably busy/quiet> with cars. Additionally, it was <very busy/reasonably busy/quiet> with pedestrians <on/off the pavement> and with other cyclists. <Insert details about nearby school, etc, if applicable>.

I am an experienced cyclist, and a trained British Cycling Ride Leader, who's led hundreds of group rides safely. I normally cycle <x> miles per year, mostly on roads shared with cars. I am also a licenced driver, and have no points at all on my licence.

My camera is a <make & model>, mounted <on my helmet/on the bars/etc> and it records to MicroSD memory card. My camera is fully functional and free of defects. Because it has a wide-angle lens, my camera distorts the video along the horizontal plane. This means it makes overtaking cars look further away than what they really were.

When the incident occurred, the offending vehicle <overtook me from behind/drove towards me from up ahead/came from a  side road/etc> and then <describe incident here, remembering to explain why you took certain actions. Also explain why you swerved (if you did) or any other evasive steps you took>.
When that happened, I felt <scared, shocked, etc>. Now, after the event, I still feel <describe how you feel>. <If applicable, describe the reactions of other road users (incl pedestrians) to the incident>.

And finally…

Before sending off your Op Snap report, copy it, and save it to a folder. You will want to keep a copy of the video, too, and it helps to file it by date. Should it end up going to court, that may only be two years later, and you won’t remember the details anymore.

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Having the details saved means you will be able to refresh your memory before court.

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