Everything You Need to Know about Dash Cams

Dashboard cameras, also known simply as dash cams, are becoming increasingly popular with drivers across the USA.

There are two main reasons for this increasing use of dash cams to constantly record footage of a vehicle on the road.

The first reason is about minimizing the risk of a “Your word against mine” situation. Camera footage is becoming increasingly accepted for insurance claims and proving liability. Dash Cam footage can absolve you of blame in situations where you would otherwise be at fault. For example, where a case might go to court without footage, the existence of clear footage that apportions blame can create a change of heart that leads to an out-of-court settlement.

There has also been an increase in people trying to scam insurance companies through creating fake accidents and then benefiting, when you cannot prove your word is better than theirs. This phenomena is so common in Russia that most drivers now have a dashboard camera. Due to the success of scammers in Russia, the tricks they employ are migrating to other countries (see video to the right).

The second reason is that many parents are finding incredible peace of mind by using a dash cam to manage the behavior of their offspring behind the wheel. This is already improving driving attentiveness amongst the young and saving lives.

In an increasingly complex world, it pays to understand exactly what a dash cam is and how you can benefit from owning one.

What Is A Dash Cam?

A dash cam is any device that attaches to your vehicle to record video footage of the road around you.

What is a dash cam?

Many devices, such as smartphones, can be used as dash cams. There are many apps out there that turn your phone into a dash cam . All you need is a special mounting to allow it to be attached to the interior of your vehicle so that it can view and record the road.

However, like other non-specialist devices, the set-up is more complex than simply investing in a dedicated dashboard camera.

At the most basic level, a dedicated dash cam, costing around $50-$100 dollars, will simply attach to the windshield and record what happens outside the front of the vehicle.

But as with anything technological, the more you pay, the more features you will get.

A mid-priced dash cam will usually record in high definition and have two cameras, in much the same way as most smartphones do. The forward facing camera will record what is happening on the road in front of you, while the rear facing camera will record what happens inside the vehicle.

How Do Dash Cameras Work?

Dash Cam Installation

The exact details of how a dash cam works will depend specifically on the price you are willing to pay. Generally, they perform the same function. You stick them to your windscreen, like a satnav device, and the dash cam will then record what happens.

Nearly all modern dash cam models auto start and stop. Your dash cam will be plugged into the cigarette lighter socket, which does not have power running from it when the engine is turned off.

On ignition, the power will activate the dash cam and it will automatically start recording. When the engine is turned off, the camera stops recording. This makes operation of your camera completely hands and mind free.

In order to record all the time you are driving, dash cams are designed to record on a “loop”. Once the recording space is full, it will start to record over the data that is oldest. So your device will always preserve the most recent data.

The dash cam will record directly onto a standard format SD card. These are very affordable and with a 64GB card being able to hold around 10 hours of HD video, your journey footage is rarely going to be recorded over.

The top end cameras also have G-Force sensors to automatically save files in the event of an accident. So if you are involved in a crash and you forget, or can’t, stop your dash cam, you could lose your footage if it keeps recording. A G-Force sensor detects unusually strong jolts on the device and automatically safeguards the footage up until that point by segregating it so it does not record over it.

The higher priced dashboard cameras will also include GPS, to allow you to log your location and record the speed you are going. Such is the subtlety of these top-end devices that they can even log the rate at which you accelerate or decelerate. Be aware though that even if you were not at fault for an accident, if your GPS data shows you were exceeding the speed limit at the time, then your dash cam footage could actually work against you, as an attorney, or law enforcement, will use the letter of the law rather than the spirit of it.

Some dash cams can also record footage when the vehicles engine is turned off. This can bring the additional benefit of being able to record while you are away from the vehicle. If your vehicle is hit while in a car park, as is the case in the video to the right, the footage can be invaluable in making sure that the perpetrator is caught and made to pay for the damage caused.

Permanent recording does require your dash cam to be “hotwired”, so that it takes power from the battery when the engine is turned off. This also means you will need a power limiting device installed, so the camera does not fatally drain the battery.

Some people question the value of running a dash cam permanently, as vandalism is usually not picked up with clarity and any contact that is on the side of your vehicle will not be recorded.

Should I Get A Dash Cam?

Although here in the USA we don’t have such an endemic issue with traffic accident scammers as countries such as Russia and South Korea, there are several compelling reasons to buy a dash cam to protect yourself.

The first reason to get a dashboard camera is simply because memory is fallible. When you are in an accident, or an incident occurs on the road in front of you, things move so quickly that it’s almost impossible to catch all the detail.

There is also the problem that shock and confusion can distort your perception of what actually happened. Having clear footage of what took place can be very valuable for putting your case across later.

So in terms of insurance claims, a dash cam can help you and your attorney build a strong case in your favor.

There is also the less well discussed issue around legal leverage. If the other party in a road traffic collision denies responsibility, then your dashboard cam footage could be invaluable. If the footage clearly shows the other party to be responsible, allowing their legal team to view the footage has sometimes proved enough for them to recommend an out-of-court settlement. For example, in the video to the right, the border patrol van making an illegal left claimed that the recording vehicle ran a red light to hit them.

Dash Cams Can Save Your Teen’s Life

Beyond the potential legal benefits of using dashboard camera, parents of young drivers can also benefit from this new technology.

A growing number of parents are enforcing that their children keep a dash cam in the car while they are driving. Making this a condition of driving either the parents car, their own car, or a car the parents of purchased for them, is proving to be a life saving move. As insurance provider American Family reports, teen drivers they cover who enroll in their year long Safe Driver program and drive with a dash cam are more than 70% less likely to be in an accident.

With the dash cam running in the car all the time, especially with the bonus of inward facing camera, the parents can review the footage at any time. Turning the camera off, or deleting footage, breaks the deal and takes the car away from the teenager, so the parents are always in control.

On top of the obvious visual benefits, the high-end cameras that record GPS data and speeds data, mean that parents can also make sure that children are not going places they have been told not to go, and that they are not driving recklessly.

There is also a formal program parents can use. American Family Insurance’s teen safe driver program actually provides a free dash cam for one year. On top of this, they offer education and professional coaching to help participants teenagers be better drivers.

If the dashboard camera in a participants car records erratic movements, such as hard braking or swerving, the footage is instantly sent to a control center. The control center is managed by professional driving coaches, who will review the footage and make an assessment on what has happened.

They will then passes their assessment onto the parents, so that they can talk to the children.

This program has been in operation since 2007, and the latest figures suggest over 12,000 families have participated in it. American Family Insurance state that they never actually see the results, so whatever happens, car insurance rates are not affected unless an accident occurs. The only time they claim to view the dash cam footage is with permission from the policyholder, which has helped to prove fault in several accidents.

So increasingly, dash cams are proving to be a useful tool in keeping young drivers safe.

Are Dash Cams legal in the USA?

You may be surprised to know that because dashboard cameras are a relatively new mass-market technology, there are no current federal or state laws regulating their use.

Many American truckers have used dashboard cameras for several years now, because of the protection it can offer to their livelihoods. The police have also used dash cams for quite a length of time, as a Google search for “Cops Gone Wild” will demonstrate. However, in the USA it is still only a relatively small number of civilians who use dashboard camera technology.

Truckers have found dash cams very useful in showing that they acted correctly prior to collision, but dash cam footage has also at times worked against the truck driver. In November 2013 camera footage went viral on the Internet when the inward facing dash cam recorded a truck driver looking at Facebook on his phone.

What happened seconds later, was at the forward facing camera filmed his truck ploughing straight into the highway patrol car, killing the officer. Although the truck driver used a dash cam to protect himself, the footage ended up being used against him in court to prove the case against him for reckless driving.

So currently dashboard cameras are entirely legal to use in the USA and have been used to prove both innocence and guilt. It is definitely a subject worth keeping your eye on if you already own one of these cameras, because with more and more people buying dash cams it is inevitable that at some point legislation will be passed.

There are however general safety laws that you must abide by if using a dash cam in the USA. Despite their name, dash cams don’t actually attach to your dashboard. They are stuck onto you windshield, in the same way a satnav device would be.

So you must ensure that your driving vision is not obscured. In general, if you have obscured a piece of the drivers side of the windshield with anything more than 5” x 5” then you are breaking the law. However, most modern dash cam units are far smaller than this, and many can now also be attached above the windshield.

Potential Dash Cam Legal Issues

Although dashboard cameras are currently without legal restriction in the USA, there are some related legal issues you do have to be aware of when using one.

tell people when you are recording them

The major legal issue you will confront is that in many US states, privacy legislation dictates that you must tell somebody if you are recording them. This can be either filming them or recording their voice. If you were to film somebody and not tell them, you could face criminal charges for wire tapping.

However, in most US states and cities you do have the right to record video of public places. This obviously includes roads, where privacy is not expected. But crucially it will not cover private land, such as supermarket car parks or other areas where lots of accidents do occur.

Despite the issues around privacy, it is a far better situation in the USA than in some countries. Data protection laws in Switzerland for example are so stringent that dash cams are completely illegal to use.

In terms of officials viewing your footage, at any time a law enforcement officer can request that you show them the recording on your dash cam. They cannot force you to do this though, it is entirely your choice.

In order to make you show them the footage, or allow them to take a copy of it, or view it themselves after seizure, any law enforcement agency will require legal consent through a subpoena or search warrant.

Your dash cam may be demanded by any law enforcement agency under what are known as “exigent circumstances”. Under these same circumstances an officer can seize your recording equipment, but only if they declare that they suspect it contains potential evidence and suspect it could be lost, destroyed or tampered with if left in your possession. They will still need a subpoena or search warrant to view the footage after seizure (although how anyone would stop them surreptitiously doing so remains an unanswered question).

So unless the police believe your camera has recorded a crime, they cannot legally force you to hand over your dash cam or it’s recorded footage.

Crucially, there are no circumstances under which any official body may delete your recordings, or order you to do so. So for example, if you filmed a police officer beating a suspect, they would have no legal right to delete that footage. Obviously it is an uncertain area because they can seize your camera, but they cannot delete the footage unless they get legal permission to do so.

A Dash Cam Means “Better Safe Than Sorry”

Ultimately the decision on installing a dash cam in your vehicle is yours. You may feel it is expensive, or hard work, or not worth it for the small chance of an accident, or being scammed, that there actually is.

But just watch this forty second clip filmed by a dash cam. The driver who uploaded this clip says that on arrival at the scene, from the layout of the accident, he was blamed by the emergency services.

Watch the video to see what actually happens:

As you can see, in cases where the cause of the crash is not immediately obvious, or when someone lies to protect themselves, a dash cam can be invaluable evidence that can safeguard you both financially and legally.

As prices drop and insurance companies start to offer discounts for their use, you can expect to see a rapid increase in the use of dash cams in the USA, and the day of production vehicles coming with a dash cam already installed is not going to be far behind.