ACTIVIST: The Droid Machine touches down
MIDWAY THROUGH the recent BBC documentary, The War on Britain’s Roads, an unorthodox character appears. It is a man dressed head to toe in black, wearing a cycling helmet equipped with dual flashlights and head cam. He calls himself the ‘Traffic Droid’, he monitors London’s streets, and although he says he does not see himself as vigilante or a kind of batman, it is easy to think the opposite.
All we are told is that his name is Lewis and his day job involves being a telecoms technician. This is not really all that important though, for the Traffic Droid – a name Sci-fi enthusiasts would point out relates back to George Lucas’ robotic creations in Star Wars – is a real-life man of action who takes the law into his own hands. Well, not law exactly, but he does hand out his own personally designed tickets to road users that violate the Highway Code in his vicinity. Everything he sees is recorded via the multiple cameras he has mounted on his bicycle and helmet; footage of bad road etiquette and reckless driving is then uploaded onto his own YouTube channel.
What drives a man, without an official uniform, to gear up and lecture strangers on the road how to operate their vehicles?
ROADSIDE CHAT: Dediare talks with The Voice's Bart Chan
The Voice wants to know and sets about making contact. The production company which made the programme is unhelpful, so, taking out the middleman, it falls to Twitter to get in touch. The Traffic Droid responds to an interview request with an affirmative – the location: outside Nike Town, Oxford Street, central London. “Touch down is between 16.15 to 16.30… in full Droid Gear. See you or you see me”, the non-caped crusader cyclist writes in an email.
The temperature is hovering near to zero, and Christmas shoppers are not wasting much time outside gawping at window displays on Oxford Street. As darkness sets in, the Traffic Droid emerges from the crowd; lights flashing, he turns heads of bemused onlookers admiring the all black apparel and heavily customised road bike.
He looks precisely as he did on TV, just bigger.
HOT WHEELS: The Droid Machine
After some initial cajoling, he reluctantly reveals that his full name is Lewis Dediare, his age is 48-years-“young”, and that he is indeed a telecoms engineer. This is only after his fears of a prank interview are assuaged when seeing valid press identification.
“Cycling in London is almost like playing dodgems; you need to be alert, road savvy, you need to know what’s going on, interpret the road and the anticipations of other drivers,” Dediare says. It certainly does require skill and reflexes to stay in one piece cycling on the capital’s roads – according to the London Assembly, the body that oversees the mayor’s work, “Pedal cycle injuries rose 50 percent in London from 2,958 to 4,497 between 2006 and 2011.”
On November 21, the organisation’s transport committee published a report of its investigation into cycling safety in London. The report, Gearing Up, criticises Boris Johnson for not being ambitious enough to realise his own goal of bringing about a “cycling revolution”, calling for double the existing Transport for London cycling budget and doubling Johnson’s target of having five percent of all journeys made by bike in 2026 to 10 percent. In comparison, Copenhagen has set a target of 50 percent by 2015.
Perception of danger is a significant factor. “If cycle safety does not improve, there is a risk that more Londoners will be put off taking up cycling”, reads the document.
Meanwhile the Traffic Droid accepts there is risk in choosing pedalling power over engine. “Anything can happen at any moment,” he says. “It is advisable to find a very quiet route, even though it may be longer to get to your workplace. Spend a weekend, a quiet time, proofing your route – and once you’ve learned your route you become confident.”
HANDLE WITH CARE: The horns, cameras and lights on the Droid Machine
Despite his stoic aura, Dediare admits he was afraid when four years ago, in order “to save a lot of money”, he started out.
“I tell you, the first time I went on the road with bicycle I was scared – I had to use the pavement,” he says.
The reason he transformed himself into the Traffic Droid and created the Droid Machine – “a bicycle souped-up with horns, lights and cameras” – was due to being hit and run on his bike three years ago.
“The driver, without warning – no indicator lights, no horn – suddenly turned into me. I went flying, 10 feet off the ground, I swear to God. I saw lights spinning, I felt like a helicopter, like a rag-doll.
“I hit the ground, cracked two ribs, and laying my back I thought I was finished.”
The driver contrived to attempt escaping by turning down a dead-end. “He was brought to justice,” Dediare says, barely concealing a smile.
Now, after three years of being the Traffic Droid, he has gotten into the swing of things. He wears a bike lock cable around his neck – something that doubles up as an instrument of self-defence. “It’s a last resort, I’d never attack anybody,” he says, knowing full well there are people who will become confrontational.
Most people whose bad road habits make them recipients of one of his special tickets take onboard his advice. Yet “some are naturally very aggressive,” Dediare says.
Since becoming the Traffic Droid, he has been attacked twice.
“I’ve been attacked twice. I’ve been throttled around my throat. There’s a rule of engagement here: never ever fight back – except when your life is danger.
“I am a pacifist, but I’m an activist at the same time.”
There is no immediate end in sight to his days of tackling dangerous road users; he says he will persist in being the Traffic Droid “as long as there are bad people on the roads threatening my live and other people’s lives."
The notion of protecting strangers is wired into wired into Dediare. “I come from a background where we care for others, and it’s something I can’t help,” he says.
Arguably, there is an element of spirituality guiding him. “I am Christian, but I don’t follow it religiously, like going to church every day. I believe in God, I believe in people, I believe in animals, I believe in life and helping others,” Dediare says with conviction.
“Cycling is a beautiful activity,” he adds before closing the interview with a blast of the Droid Machine’s incredibly loud horn – the sound, trumping anything the passing buses can muster, elicits annoyed looks from shoppers worried that they could be asking Santa for hearing-aids this Christmas.