Dashboard cameras, or simply dash cams, are no longer just fads that car owners want to put into their respective rides. These gadgets have become an all-important feature in many modern vehicles that even older models can be retrofitted with universal type dash cams. And while many of these have been used in the resolution of a variety of court cases and even insurance scams, many motorists are still in the dark as to the legality of such devices. So, are dashboard cameras legal? Here are some of the things you really ought to know.
Are Dashboard Cams Legal?
Different countries have their own interpretations on whether to consider dash cams legal or not. For example, while most states in the US find it legal to have dash cams installed on vehicles, they will have to address a few issues about electronic surveillance and vision obstructions. In the United Kingdom, it is perfectly legal to have dash cams in vehicles. Some countries in continental Europe, while they do allow dash cams, put certain restrictions in the way the device is to be installed and used. In Switzerland, dash cams are considered illegal because of their very strict electronic surveillance laws. Australians, for their part, can reap the full benefits of having dash cams in their vehicles because their government considers such devices to be perfectly legal.
The question of dash cam legality depends on how a country looks at and values an individual’s rights to privacy as well as the country’s existing laws on road safety. These are the two fundamental issues that decision-makers have to think about whenever they have to rule about the legality of dash cams.
The Issue about Surveillance and Privacy
As mentioned, one of the issues raised by dash cams is electronic surveillance especially in terms of audio recording. While it is true that the camera is focused on the road ahead and never really on the occupants of the vehicle, it does come with an audio capture feature that also allows it to record acoustic signals in the form of ambient noise from inside the cabin of the car. This means that the audio recording capability of the dash cam can effectively keep a log of the different sounds that transpired inside the cabin.
Think of it as the cockpit voice recorder in an airplane where all sounds, including conversations between pilots and the control tower as well as electronic sounds, are recorded. The same is true with the dash cam. It is quite easy to overlook this feature since its main purpose is to continuously shoot videos of your trip. But then again, it also records conversations, the faint blowing sound from the air conditioning vents, and even the music coming from the car stereo.
If you are traveling alone, then there clearly is no issue. However, if you have a passenger with you, most laws on electronic surveillance requires you to inform this passenger that you have a dash cam onboard your vehicle and that this may record any conversation that may transpire between you and the passenger.
In the United States, there are 12 states that require both parties to provide consent to the audio recording. This means both you and your passenger or passengers should consent to the recording of any audio that may emanate from within the cabin of the vehicle. These states include California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Montana, Maryland, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Nevada, Washington, and Pennsylvania. For the other 38 states including District of Columbia, only the passenger needs to give his or her consent.
The good news is that the audio recording law typically does not apply to dashboard cameras. However, if a conversation was recorded using the audio recording capabilities of the dash cam, then the law will have to be applied. This means that you have got to get the consent of your passenger. Of course, the best way to avoid this is by turning off or deactivating the audio recording functionality of the dash cam.
In the UK where dash cams are installed in coaches, minicabs, and even taxis, the drivers of these vehicles are required by law to inform their passenger or passengers that a dash cam is in full operation. Failure to do so can lead to harsh legal sanctions.
Dash Cams as View Obstructions
The other issue has something to do with the tendency of dash cams to obstruct optimal view of the road. For optimum road safety to be ensured, the windshield should be free from any obstructions or anything that can limit the view of the outside environment. Having obstructions on the windshield can increase the risk of traffic accidents whether it is a vehicular collision or hitting a pedestrian.
This is a lot similar to the placement of stickers or decals on the windshield whereby only certain sizes of stickers can be placed in specific areas of the windshield. In like manner the dash cam should be placed in a part of the windshield that will never obstruct the driver’s view. This is why it is typically mounted on the small area behind the rearview mirror.
Unfortunately, not all states in the US allow dash cams to be mounted onto the windshield. The states that allow windshield mounting of dash cams include Colorado, Michigan, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, Alaska, New York, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Illinois, Tennessee, Florida, and Mississippi. There are also states that allow dash cams to be mounted on the car’s windshield, but generally these come with certain exceptions. California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Hawaii, Wisconsin, Indiana, Washington DC, and Maryland all allow dash cams to be mounted onto the windshield, but with exceptions.
For example, the dashboard camera should not obscure more than 5 square inches of the windshield view from the driver’s side and about 7 square inches on the front passenger side. If you install a large dash cam that obscures your view by more than 5 square inches or obscures the view of the passenger by 7 square inches, it is more than possible that you’d be meted fines for it.
It should be understood that the law doesn’t forbid you from installing a dash cam in your vehicle. For as long as it doesn’t interfere with your optimal view of the road, then it should be perfectly fine. It is for this reason that placing the dash cam on the car’s dashboard makes a lot more sense since it will not generally obscure your view of the road. Unfortunately, you may not have a good sweeping view of the road through the camera’s lenses, either since the device is located lower.
The best thing to do is to look at the dash cam laws that exist in your own state so you will be guided accordingly. It also pays to learn the similar laws of other areas especially if you plan on travelling across states or even overseas. This is your best protection against possibly being slapped with a violation of the law.
Dash Cam Footage: A Double-Edged Sword
Most car owners purchase and mount a dash cam in their vehicles for the sole purpose of protecting them from unscrupulous individuals who are notorious for making fraudulent insurance claims. However, it is important to understand that the video footage from one’s dash cam is a double-edged sword. It could also be used against you in certain cases.
For instance, if you were flagged down for a traffic violation, the dash cam footage can be used to ascertain your innocence or your guilt. You can argue with the law enforcement officer all you want, but if he asks for your dash cam video and proves that you were indeed speeding beyond what is legally permitted, then you’re in big trouble. The video footage on your dash cam can be easily integrated with GPS tracking to determine your vehicle’s speed at the time period in question.
Likewise, if you decide to sue another driver or motorist for injuries you may have sustained or perhaps for the damage caused to your vehicle, there really is no keeping a judge from holding the footage against you just in case you are in the wrong. For example, you may have sustained damages to your vehicle, but if the video footage shows that you crossed the intersection when you were not supposed to, then you’re clearly in the wrong. And if you think deleting this incriminating footage will help you win your case, think again. This is construed as tampering with evidence which is an entirely different case against you.
Dash cams can be very helpful tools especially when faced with a legal dilemma. In most cases, it’s a great way to document your trip so you will also have something to share on your social media account. However, it is imperative to always consider the legal implications of having such a device installed in your car. Depending on where you live, this might be perfectly legal or with certain exceptions. It’s always best to learn the existing laws in your locality so you’ll be guided accordingly.