You’ve probably encountered friends and family who have invested in a dash camera and are raving about it. Or maybe you’ve seen some of the endless YouTube clips with some things these cameras have caught. It can be both entertaining and frightening.
But you might also be wondering what you can actually do with the footage. Is a dash cam admissible in court? Can it help with insurance claims? Are they even legal to use?
To help you with all those questions we have put together this article that will tackle them one by one. We’ll look at dash cam laws and what you need to keep in mind. You’ll also learn how to best use them to your advantage and avoid some of the common mistakes people make.
Just keep reading or jump to the section that is most interesting to you. Then check out some of the best dashcams available on this site and get yours installed in a matter of days.
Frist of all let’s take a look at what they are, what they do and how they work.
Basically, they are small cameras that point out of your car and video record everything that is happening in front of you.
All the video is recorded to an internal memory card and is available for you to look at later. Some devices have a screen built-in so that you can immediately look at footage. While others just record and you have to download the video to your computer to see it.
The great thing is that they constantly record and usually you don’t have to turn them on or off. As soon as you start your engine it will record. And if something happens you have immediate evidence.
Size is very important with these devices. While they are called dashboard cameras, they most often attach to the windscreen. This is because you have a better view from the top center of the front window. But obviously, you don’t want to obstruct your view too much.
This could cause legal issues which we will get to in the legal section below.
As already mentioned they are pretty simple video recording devices. A lot of them look like phones with a lens pointing out from one side or two. If there are two lenses present then the device will record forward and back. That will result in video of the interior of the car and to an extent behind as well.
Once you turn the engine on, power will be supplied through the cigarette lighter. And most devices will then automatically start recording. In earlier versions, you had to keep an eye on the space on internal memory. If it was full then you wouldn’t continue recording.
But these days the majority of cameras come with a continuous loop feature. Once the memory is full it will start deleting the oldest ones first.
On more advanced models, the device will include a g-force sensor. This will register sudden and drastic impacts that would most likely be the result of an accident. When such incidences are encountered, it will automatically mark the video just before and after as not to be deleted. Even with a continuous loop recording you won’t have to worry about losing the evidence.
This is possibly one of the top questions most people have. From a federal law perspective, there is no reason why you cannot install one. But dash cam laws by state do have some subtle restrictions to be aware of.
There are basically two legal issues with these types of cameras.
Firstly, some states have restrictions of how much of your windscreen can be obstructed. The restrictions usually indicate a certain maximum square inch space on the driver and passenger side. For example, you might find that your state has a law that says you cannot install a device more than 5 inches’ square on the driver side.
The easiest way to find out is to speak to a police officer or better yet a lawyer.
The second issue is that of recording others without their consent. Recording video and audio would indicate that it’s a surveillance device. And most states require that all parties to a recording consent to it. At the same time, video only recordings are legal pretty much everywhere when done in public places.
The safest thing you can do is buy the smallest camera with no audio recording. That will make it legal in the majority of places.
If you have any doubt before you submit dashcam footage to police and insurance companies then you should contact a lawyer. The small print of state and municipal laws could end up causing you trouble. So, it’s always best to be on the safe side.
The majority of insurance companies don’t have specific terms and conditions regarding this. However, many insurance cases in the US are now being settled and rejected because of video evidence.
There are two main areas where the video will help.
Firstly, if you’re involved in a car accident and there are conflicting statements, then that can be a difficult situation. How do you prove your statement? This becomes even more difficult if another car involved had several occupants who all blame you. Most times you will be out of luck.
However, if you have video evidence then you can prove exactly what happened. And that can even prove that other people made a false statement.
Another situation that has become very common is people trying to make a fraudulent claim by running into your vehicle while you’re stopped at lights. They then claim you hit them and have some criminal accomplices. With less than $100 invested, you can stop that becoming a costly experience.
Now, with such obvious benefits to avoiding insurance fraud and false claims you’d think that there would be some dash cam car insurance discount available. In the USA that has not yet happened. Mainly because actual data on reduced risk is not yet fully clear.
However, some European countries are now seeing such discounts offered. It is likely to happen in the US at some stage. However, at present there are no such discounts (more on this further down).
Essentially your savings come from avoiding false and fraudulent claims that you can do nothing about.
Some insurance cases can end up in court. Even though that is basically very rare. The damage has to be severe, and in many cases involves criminal negligence or fraud. Where it is going to be a more likely situation is traffic violations and parking tickets.
If you are stopped for running a stop sign and you are 100% certain you did actually stop, then you can submit dash cam evidence in court. This is best done through a lawyer before a court hearing. If the evidence is clear then it’s most likely that a case will be dropped.
For parking violations, it is a little bit trickier. First of all, you would need to invest in a camera that has a motion sensor and records even when the engine is off. It is not unheard of that parking tickets have been issued before the meter is up. With a time-stamped camera recording you can have proof of such situations.
These things are rare, but with just one or two such occurrences your camera can have paid for itself. The important thing is to always submit such evidence through a lawyer. There are usually very specific ways this has to be done. And you don’t want to get the evidence deemed inadmissible because of an error you made.
In the above insurance claims section, we already hinted at the fact that this is currently not the case. US based insurance providers have so far not offered discount rates for installing a dash cam. The official response is somewhat shady.
Essentially, there is no evidence that dash cams significantly reduce the risk involved in driving. This is mainly down to the fact that recording of such data has only recently started. In many ways, the US insurance industry is quite a bit behind some European counterparts.
France and Italy have seen some insurance providers add incentives for having a camera installed. Some provide a reduced rate, while others incentivize the purchase. Either way, you do get to save a bit of money. It’s also not likely that dash cams will completely end fraudulent claims. So, don’t expect huge savings in the future.
The main saving comes from the fact that you can avoid claims against your own insurance. If you’re completely innocent in an accident and witnesses claim otherwise, then you can prove your side of the story.
Now, you would think that with the popularity of these cameras that car makers would start offering them as standard. Or even as an optional extra. It would be an excellent way to not have to install something on your windscreen with a cable running to your cigarette lighter.
The same happened when GPS started to become affordable and popular. All of a sudden you could order a new car with it built in. Again, some European makers are leading the way a bit.
French company Citroen have cameras as optional extras on some of their range. But, as an extra built-in they are still very expensive. Especially when you consider that you can buy one for less than $80. But if cables around the inside dash annoy you then it’s probably a tidier solution.
Will they become standard features like ABS and airbags? Only time will tell, but probably not. They don’t improve safety. And a big push would have to come to make an argument for ending insurance fraud. Whether that will happen is hard to say at this stage.
When you’re trying to figure out what type of dash cam to invest in then there are 3 aspects to consider. Each one of the more advanced features will make it more expensive. But even a top of the range model can be got for less than $200.
So, what are the three main functions to focus on?
Firstly, if you just want some dash cam evidence of accidents, then a forward-facing camera is more than enough. You will want to just make sure that it can record on continuous loop. And also, that it turns on automatically when you switch on the engine. From a legal point of view, you want to make sure it’s not too big.
Secondly, you might want to invest in something that is rear facing as well. This will cover everything happening inside the car. And it will get some coverage of behind your vehicle as well. As a result, you’ll have evidence of rear impacts to prove what actually happened.
Finally, you might want to get a surveillance type camera. This is especially handy to catch parking incidences. Have you ever got back to your car and notices a big scratch or dent? Most likely the cause was another driver with some poor parking skills. If you had a motion-activated camera, then you be able to get some evidence and bring it to the police to investigate. That could save you a load of money in repair costs.
The most important information to take away from this article is that dashcams will help in court and insurance cases. They may not always be accepted. But if the quality and evidence is very clear, then you can easily prove what happened in an accident.
If there is any doubt over the recording, then you should always talk to a lawyer. It can save you thousands in insurance premiums and make sure you don’t become the target of fraud or a scam.