The roads can be an odd and peculiar place at times, where anything can happen in the blink of an eye. We all, as drivers or passengers, have witnessed things that would make you scratch your head and wonder out loud just what level of person we share the roads with. Although any good driving teacher should have the ‘always expect the unexpected’ mantra drilled into their pupil right from the start of their learning, it’s still possible to witness things that you’d love to have a dash camera handy for to create yet another YouTube video of driving fails. Only last week, on one of Corks busiest roundabouts, I met a sizeable jeep joining the roundabout in completely the wrong direction, totally oblivious to the flow of traffic they were contradicting. In recent years though, the rise and rise of dashboard mounted camera’s (Dash Cams) has given motorists an opportunity to document their every movement, as well as becoming a vital defence against insurance fraud. But to many, a dash cam, their legality, their features and their operation are still a source of confusion. Well worry not, we’ve done the leg work, and as such here is the MicksGarage.com guide to Dash Cams.
As the name suggests, dash cams are essentially a video recording device mounted on the dashboard or windscreen of a vehicle, providing a forward facing view of the road ahead, mimicking to an extent the view that the driver has. The technology was developed alongside police agencies mainly in the US as a means of recording officer’s activities and providing potential evidence. As the technology became more accessible, it quickly became a feature of motorsport with everything from F1 to local rallying investing heavily in on-board cameras helping us at home to get a different perspective than any ever offered before. But as with everything, the march of time and progression makes cutting edge tech very affordable, and as such it would be less than 20 years from the initial law enforcement application to dash cams becoming widely available at a reasonable price.
The largest early adopters of personal dash cams were the Russians. A country known for its shocking levels of deception and fraud, ordinary citizens decided on mass to take a stand. In an effort to tackle corruption and staged road accidents, dash cams allowed the recording of evidence that could be used to contest dubious claims. Since the regulations governing their use in Russia opened up in 2009, dash cams have become a motorists main defence, and in turn has spawned millions of online video’s detailing all manner of crazy scenario’s, poor driving, shocking crashes and the odd falling meteorite!!
But, are dash camera’s legal?
Here in Ireland, the use of dash mounted cameras is completely legal, and the evidence recorded may be used as evidence in court, provided the camera’s owner is willing to testify that the recording is theirs. In recent times, a number of large claims arising out of car accidents have been thrown out thanks to the evidence obtained from dash cams, and it is the security of providing impartial proof of the events of a collision that is incredibly enticing to motorists, making the investment in a decent dash cam a worthy investment. UK readers have the added incentive of being able, with a number of firms, to claim a reduction on their insurance policy for having a dash cam fitted to their car.
But be wary if you are making any trips to the continent though, as certain countries differ on their views of dash cams, so maybe think twice before clicking record as you look toward some epic stretch of road on your European road trip. In Switzerland, use is allowed, but personal rights can be infringed if recording people, while in Austria their use is completely forbidden. In both Germany and Luxembourg, having a dash cam fitted is perfectly allowed, but publishing any recordings is not permitted. If you are a dash cam user heading away, make sure to check out regional laws online to save any unnecessary run ins with local police enforcement!
Right, but how does a Dash cam work?
Exactly like any GoPro or other recording devices, a dash cam saves all of its data to either an internal storage or external flash card such as an SD memory card. As we all know, eventually storage space can fill up, and as such, many dash cams contain the technology to maintain recordings while clearing the oldest saved files at the same time, although the data can be backed up at any time by either using your computers in built card reader, an external card reader or simply connecting it to your pc via USB cable plugging it into a USB. So while that’s easy, maintaining power to the camera can be another area of head scratching. While naturally you could expect to be provided with a charger powered through your cars cigarette lighter, akin to a mobile phone charger, this would require the user to physically turn on the camera each time a journey was started which can become tedious. Alternatively, the majority of dash cams come with a hard-wired power source feeding off the car’s battery and controlled with the priming of the ignition, exactly like your radio.
Hard-wiring an item like this is generally well documented among the instructions provided with the dash cams, but is not a job to be taken on lightly. To give a clean install and cut down on clutter, many users choose to route wires under the roof lining or dashboard depending on mounting point. This would require areas of the dashboard or interior trim to be removed during the job to achieve the best results, so unless you are comfortable then it is highly recommended to seek professional help. Many car alarm experts have become adept at fitting dash cams and providing the best installations, and many offer special offers of a complete package to get you recording in no time at all.
So, these dash cams sound great, but surely, they are expensive, right?
In relative terms, no! What you have to understand is that a dashcam, unlike perhaps other entertainment based electronics, is an investment in your personal security, just like putting camera’s up around your house. As I’ve said before, these devices allow you the driver the added security of providing non-biased evidence should you become involved in an accident, and the nature in which the camera is wired to the ignition means that if a thief manages to make off with your car, you have a constant stream of their route, and possibly even evidence of their identity if you have an added interior dash camera. Having a variety of angles available to record from is just the tip of what modern dash cam’s can do beyond the standard frontal view objective. More often than not, camera’s now come with GPS built in that can create a constantly live location history built into the footage, be it an onscreen display or embedded in the created data, while at the higher end night vision helps to decipher what lay out there in the darkness as you flew by oblivious.
All this technology, which is often packed into a neat self-contained unit, generally retails anywhere from €50-€300. Users need should generally dictate the end of the market to aim their purchase towards, as while doing a similar job it’s the finer details that determine the differences in price. At the lower end of the market, expect 720p HD recording as a minimum. Anything less than this quality isn’t worth talking about, and there’s no point going to the bother of installing a camera that records nothing but blur’s. As I mentioned earlier, SD card recording is the standard for the market as the memory is available for a relatively inexpensive price, so be wary of any cameras with a different output. While you may save a few quid on the camera, certain other memory devices can cost a lot more than an SD card! The recording angle is also quite important, as anything less than about 120 degrees, providing you’ve fitted the camera dead in the middle of your windscreen, is going to miss details to the side of the road that can be unfortunate when reviewing the footage later.
At the other end of the spectrum, high end dash cams like the Nextbase Pro are an impressive piece of kit. While the price north of €200 may seem steep, this gadget is packed full of all the latest technology and is a real market leader. As you would expect at this end, recording is done in 1080p High Definition, meaning you can see every small detail as clear as possible, while innovative lens designs are used to cut down glare and other visual obstacles. Where the difference between cameras is most clearly seen is in what additional things can be included in the recorded material, with GPS equipped camera’s offering accurate speed and G-Force measurements as well as live location information being broadcast in real time.
So there it is a beginners guide to dashcams. As a means of self-protection against fraud and insurance issues, these little machines are hard to beat. For the more adventurous, there is the multi-purpose use of being able to record, and even take still pictures, to remind yourself of an epic adventure, an evening’s blast or some track antics. As technology moves forward, prices will naturally fall, but always make sure to do plenty of thinking before making a purchase as while prices may seem appealing on some if a poor choice if you are limiting yourself to poor quality output at the end.