You’re cruising down the road, just you and one other vehicle are running side by side. Suddenly, the other car swerves in front of you and hits their brakes causing your vehicle to rear end them. Local police are called, and they take the position that you must be at fault because you struck the other vehicle in the rear. Now you are stuck wondering, how in the world do I even begin to handle this mess? This situation can happen to anyone, whether you are in your own private vehicle, driving a commercial van, or even a big tractor. At one point in time, this was potentially the makings of an insurance scam or an ongoing traffic and civil court headache for you and your insurance. The matter would inevitably devolve into a “he said, she said” in either traffic court or civil court and it could go on for months or even years… If only there were technology that could help you prove what really happened.
In 2022, personal dash cameras are no longer limited to police cars and some big trucks. They have become more affordable and portable, and while it may still not be common practice to rely on them, the potential benefits are worth noting. Elaborating on the above example, a dash camera could be used to show the other vehicle pulling in front of you, thereby making an unsafe lane change; and applying their brakes, ostensibly proving that they are failing to keep a proper lookout; and even potentially showing what is in front of them, potentially dispelling the illusion of any magically appearing deer that suddenly jumped in front of their vehicle. Now the traffic citations may be given to the actual bad actor in this situation.
With such an apparent benefit, why wouldn’t everyone have a dash camera? There are many reasons, ranging from the practical concern of placement to the philosophical concern of big brother watching. The simplest explanation is the same reason that you may want a camera: it records everything. If you are the at-fault party, you’ve just recorded the best proof against you.
Is it even legal?
In most jurisdictions, the dash cameras are perfectly legal, and the issue comes down to placement. You can have a camera, but you cannot put it just anywhere. Many jurisdictions allow the camera, but it cannot be placed anywhere that it might obstruct the driver’s view or obstruct the windshield. The common placement then is a suction cup mounted to the vehicle’s dashboard. This is the preferred approach for Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, South Carolina.
Other jurisdictions, like North Carolina, have no specific regulations regarding the placement of devices on the windshield or dashboard, and as such it can be left up to each individual driver. As a more practical matter, especially if you live near a state border, that you set up your device placement in a manner that would be in compliance with as many jurisdictions as possible.
Other jurisdictions, such as Maryland, there are specific limitations as to where the camera must be placed, such as above the AS-1 line or in the bottom corner of the windshield provided it is small enough to satisfy the size requirements.
The Federal Motor Carrier Regulations also address cameras in 49 CFR §393.60 (e)(1)(ii) allows for specific vehicle safety technologies to be mounted on the interior of a windshield and must be mounted not more than 8.5 inches below the upper edge of the area swept by the windshield wipers; not more than 7 inches above the lower edge of the area swept by the windshield wipers; and outside of the driver’s site lines to the road and highway signs and signals. The overall intention here is to encourage these kind of safety technologies.
What about audio-included dash cameras?
Some dash cameras will also record surrounding audio. Some jurisdictions will require the driver to notify passengers that they are being recorded, and other jurisdictions will allow the driver to simply record to their hearts content without the consent or awareness of their passengers. Virginia follows this one-party consent approach, meaning that it is legal to record conversations so long as one of the people involved in the conversation is aware and consents. Compare that to all-party jurisdictions which make it illegal to record audio conversations without the consent of every person involved in that conversation. Make sure you know what kind of jurisdiction you are operating in before installing a camera with an audio option.
There is a plethora of issues that can be associated with the use of dash cameras, and those concerns become even bigger when you start talking about interior facing secondary cameras as well. These cameras have a multitude of benefits worth discussing. If you have any questions on this article or would like assistance in making sure your company is adhering to best practices, please contact John Stacy (email@example.com) at (804) 377-1263, or Steve Setliff (firstname.lastname@example.org) at (804) 377-1261.