Over the past several years, video recordings from automobile dashboard cameras, or dash cams, have assumed a place in popular culture. On Youtube and other online media we’ve seen everything from hair-raising vehicle collisions, to tornadoes, hurricanes and a vividly illuminated meteor — all from the vantage point of the driver’s seat.
Viewers note that a large percentage of posted dash cam videos originate in Russia, where lax law enforcement and questionable legal processes have driven motorists to take matters into their own hands and quickly adopt this monitoring technology.
Its popularity in the Russian market derives from its value in protecting the car owner or driver from fraudulent or misinterpreted events. In a 2012 interview with Radio Free Europe, Aleksei Dozorove, a motorists’ rights activist, said: “God forbid there is a car crash or a serious road infraction that could cost you your license. If you record everything with the dash cam, as well as conversations with traffic cops, then it will save you money. In [Russia] this thing is simply essential.”
Operating a motor vehicle in some parts of the world is not all fun and games. Particularly in Russia, dash cameras are proven useful to protect motorist from false allegations.
Overall, these devices have become, in a sense, safety equipment. Like seat belts and airbags that protect against bodily harm, dashboard cameras can ensure the health of the driver’s finances and justice before the law.
Forward-looking video mounted on the dashboard captures what is happening outside of the vehicle, but inward-facing dash cams have proven useful as well. Drivers for ride-hailing services add a camera aimed at the back seat to record client behavior, and in several instances this video recording has also been able to resolve a dispute in the driver’s favor.
Outward-facing and interior video cameras have demonstrated their utility as the driver’s friend, especially against legal liability. But regarding legal ramifications – what are the regulations covering where and when they may be allowed to record?
If the camera is in a private automobile, the law in many U.S. states is concerned mainly with protection against misuse of its audio recording technology.
In visual terms a car is often held to be a public or quasi-public place. A spoken conversation inside that automobile is a different matter. In some jurisdictions, nobody may have their conversation recorded without their knowledge or consent. In other areas, if one party is aware the talk is being captured on audio, it’s permissible.
This means that if a driver uses that camera to record audio and video between that driver and passengers, it may land on the right side of the law. But if the device is left on when the driver drops off the vehicle for service and it picks up a conversation between two mechanics, this is electronic eavesdropping, and prohibited.
In many cases that same recording with the audio disabled – video footage only – would be legal. Again, laws vary from place to place and to avoid trouble it’s worth finding out what is what when using dash cameras.
What to watch
What about dash cameras used by employers? Some trucking companies are installing either outward facing or driver-facing cameras. Legally, this issue differs from personal dash cam use. An employee on duty does not have an expectation of complete privacy, and that just as true inside an office as it is on the road.
But in a 2015 survey of truck drivers, 90 percent said they would not be willing to work for a company whose vehicles included inward-facing video monitoring.
This is understandable considering that a long-haul trucker may spend time inside the cab performing activities – which may include sleeping and eating – other than being behind the wheel. Nobody wants to have the feeling of being on camera when off the clock.
Any comparison of outward-looking and inward-facing dashboard cameras should weigh which type provides a fleet manager or dispatcher with better information. A view of traffic conditions or the sequence of events that precede a collision is arguably more valuable than what’s going on inside the truck.
Telematics systems have proven to be a great benefit in fleet management. In addition to the expected gains in tracking, GPS navigation and routing efficiencies, driver monitoring helps identify potential areas of improvement and training. A forward-facing dash camera can supply the inputs that will help managers develop programs for supporting their driving staff and protecting safety without being perceived as intrusive.
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