Is A Dashboard Camera Right for You?

Police in the United States have been using dashboard cameras for recording incidents on the road for many years, says Popular Mechanics Magazine, but these little electronics might also be helpful to the everyday driver.

If you are thinking about purchasing a car dashboard camera, here’s the scoop on the benefits and how they work.

Why Do People Use Dashboard Cameras?

While the driving public may not have used dash camera systems in the past, that could change in the near future as drivers become more aware of the potential benefits. If you get into an accident or have another issue on the road, a dash cam may provide proof of what actually happened and if there was any foul play, says the National Motorists Association (NMA).

Examples of this include documenting another driver’s role in an accident or displaying documentation of your own actions when facing a traffic citation, says Bill Gremminger, owner of DashCamUSA.com and former commercial driver. Dashboard cameras may also provide law enforcement with important information about an incident while the car is running but pulled over or parked, Gremminger says, such as visuals of someone approaching your car for attempted robbery. Keep in mind, however, if your camera is recording what is happening on the road and an accident is your fault, it could also serve as proof against you in court, says the NMA.

Additionally, dash cams may provide an extra sense of security for any driver, whether a frequent driver or not, adds Gremminger. “They really are for every driver,” he says. “I have seen statistics that 50 percent or more of accidents that take place happen within five miles of one’s home. I can unequivocally say that once you own a dash camera, you will always own one.

How Do Dash Cams Work?

A dashboard camera is essentially just a small, digital video camera that attaches to the dash or interior windshield of your vehicle, according to Engadget.com. They are available in single or multiple lens formats (for front and back window recording), says the website, and most automatically start recording when you turn on the car — they are generally off when the car is off, says Gremminger.

Other key differences between a dash cam and a regular video camera have to do with the functions, says Gremminger. These typically include:

Recording is done in a loop: The camera records video to a microSDHC card that has limited storage. Usually you can record about 5 hours or more of HD video in loop on a 32 GB card, he says, and much more if you have a budget for more storage. As the microSDHC storage reaches capacity, the camera begins to delete the earliest files that were created and keeps recording new files (completing a cycle or loop).

Users can protect files: Because the continuously recorded video files are of short duration (e.g. 2, 3 or 5 minutes) the user can “protect” an important file and prevent it from being deleted. A protected file can be downloaded to a computer for viewing or can be viewed on the camera’s monitor at a later time.

Captures wider views: Dash cameras use wider angle lenses that provide a more complete view of the happenings in front of or behind the vehicle.

Powered by the car: Unlike other cameras, dash cams are designed to plug into the vehicle’s universal 12-volt outlet to operate off of a vehicle’s electrical system.

Engadget.com also mentions there are advanced dashboard cam systems that offer additional functions for in-vehicle use, such as geotagging, speed monitoring and time and date recognition. Gremminger adds that standard dashboard cameras are not ideal for use on a motorcycle, ATV, bike or any other open-air vehicle, as you would probably want to get a weatherproof unit instead.

Are There Dash Camera Laws?

There are a few legal issues to consider when thinking of using a dashboard camera:

Does the actual camera block too much of your windshield? According to a CBS News legal analyst, dash cams may be legal as long as they don’t interfere with your vision or block more than a 7-inch square on the passenger’s side or a 5-inch square on the driver’s side of the car.

Are you allowed to record the people/events happening in front of your vehicle. Different states have different laws for these devices, says Gremminger, and they are generally surrounding the issue of recording audio without consent.

The NMA says some states have attempted to regulate audio recording in a vehicle by instituting wiretapping laws. In 38 states, capturing audio after getting consent from one person in the conversation is legal, according to the NMA. For example, if you get pulled over by a police officer, recording the conversation between you two may be acceptable because you are one of the two parties and have given consent.

In the other 12 states, all parties must give consent to audio recording for it to be legally obtained, but there may be different rules concerning conversations with on-duty police officers, as some states have established that they have no expectation of privacy, says the NMA. Make sure to consult your local laws regarding the use of dashboard cameras and what can legally be recorded.

To ensure you’re operating your dash cam legally, Gremminger suggests doing your homework and finding out the laws in your state before even purchasing one. In addition to knowing the laws, Engadget.com suggests letting all passengers know you have a camera before they get into your car.

Dashboard cameras can be helpful tools in documenting important situations you may encounter on the road. Make sure you understand how to use them and be aware of the relevant regulations concerning their use before you decide to purchase one yourself.