What you need to know about dash cams in Australia

How a dashboard camera can change the way you drive.

Dash cams have quickly gone from a rare add-on to an easy and common way of recording your drives. Some dash cam users say they could never go back after installing one and a number of users insist that it’s actually changed the way they drive for the better. Find out about the benefits that dash cams can offer in this guide.

What are people using dash cams for?

People are already using dash cams to:

  • Protect themselves from car insurance scams. Scammers don’t like being caught on video.
  • Record evidence for car insurance claims. If it’s your word against theirs, video evidence is very compelling.
  • Successfully contest tickets. Video doesn’t make mistakes, but sometimes traffic police do.
  • Automatically record drive information. This can include GPS location in order to prove their vehicle’s location at a given time.
  • De-escalate situations that might have gone very differently. Video cameras provide indisputable evidence and can therefore be a cure for road rage.
  • Catch once-in-a-lifetime events. You never know what’ll happen right before your eyes. The wealth of exciting dash cam videos on the internet is a testament to this.

The top five uses of dash cams

People use their dash cams in many different ways, but they are usually used in the following ways:

  • You can catch scammers in the act. A common car insurance scam is for a pedestrian to jump in front of a slow moving car, fall over and start talking about lawsuits and serious injuries. Other popular scams can be as simple as someone backing into you in traffic and accusing you of rear-ending them or parking a damaged car near yours and saying that you caused the damage. Dash cams are a near sure-fire way of protecting yourself from these.
  • You’re able to prove your innocence in a court of law. People have successfully used dashboard camera videos to demonstrate their innocence in the face of police inquiries.
  • You can save money on car insurance. Some insurers may offer reduced premiums if you have a dash cam, but this isn’t common practice. Instead, a dash cam can save you from having to pay big excesses by properly establishing fault in the event of an accident. A single car insurance excess payment is typically more than the cost of a dash cam, which means that it can more than pay for itself even if you only ever have to use it once.
  • You can become better educated. Real videos taken on the roads are compelling driver education material. Dash cams are becoming increasingly widely used as a way to show, not tell, the dos and don’ts of driving, as well as the consequences of bad driving. In this way, it’s similar to black box car insurance.
  • You can use it to do better business. Many businesses are having their delivery drivers use dash cams and are outfitting all their business vehicles with video recording. Dash cams are also a cost-effective way to record driving data like speed, GPS location and time on the road and they can be extremely useful for legal liability purposes and for making sure appropriate procedures are being followed.

dash cam on a windscreen

How to use a dash cam for insurance purposes

Dash cams don’t necessarily replace car insurance, but they can be used alongside it to help you get more value for money out of your policy. If you have a car insurance policy with a good breadth of cover as well as a dash cam, you can:

  • Prove your innocence in the event of an accident. If the guilty party cannot be determined, you may have no choice but to cover the costs of the excess, the raised premiums and the actual cost of the repairs and damages, even if you did nothing wrong. Dash cams mean the guilty party can be discovered so that you can be let off the hook when it’s not your fault.
  • Reduce your premiums in the long run. A no-claims history is one of the biggest car insurance discounts available, but it takes years to build up and can be wiped out by a single accident. To make matters worse, being involved in accidents can flag you as a high-risk driver and further raise your premiums. Getting a dash cam sooner rather than later means you might be able to prove your innocence in an accident, keeping your premiums low and your discounts high for a longer period of time.
  • Prove you’re meeting insurance requirements. Some policies may require that you only drive in certain areas, park your car in a particular place or avoid specific areas. Many also require that you take certain steps in the event of an accident and may reserve the right to refuse a claim if you have not done so. Dashboard video can show that you acted appropriately, while timestamping and GPS data lets you show where and when an event took place.

How to pick a good dash cam

Choose a dash cam that you can depend on. Good models can cost more, but the extra expense is sometimes necessary to get important features. It’s also worth remembering that dash cams are at their best when used with car insurance, so consider looking over your insurance policy terms and picking a dash cam that can help you meet claim requirements. Look for:

  • Automatic recording: The dash cam should turn on and start recording automatically when you start the car. If a dash cam can’t do at least this, it’s probably skimping on other important features.
  • Dashboard mounting: A suction cup attachment is good if you plan on moving the dash cam to a different car or if you’ll be using it in rental vehicles, while adhesive fasteners offer a more secure and permanent fixture while still letting you remove the camera.
  • Parking mode: Some dash cam models can be hooked up to the car’s internal battery so that they keep running even while the car is parked.
  • Removable memory card and data storage: Depending on storage space and video quality, your camera can only store a certain number of hours at a time. 16GB of storage, for example, will typically hold several hours of high resolution footage. A removable memory card allows you to swap in more storage space if needed and easily transfer video from your camera to your computer.
  • Looped recording: Dash cams need to be recording constantly while you drive, and sometimes when your car is parked too. Looped video recording is a good way of ensuring that the dash cam can still record new footage when its memory is full. This simply means that it overwrites the oldest footage with the newest as needed.
  • Impact detection: An important and increasingly common feature, impact detection ensures that the camera automatically stores important video and doesn’t overwrite it. If your car is bumped, moved or hit, the device will detect it and make sure that video of the event is available. Most dash cams will timestamp the relevant video and more advanced models can also record the force and direction of the impact.
  • Battery life and power supply: Typical dash cams usually come with about an hour of internal battery life, which means you’ll need to hook it up to another power source to use it continuously. Some will come with a cable to hook up to your car’s 12V socket, while others can be hardwired into the car’s battery.
  • Built-in display: While not an essential feature, an inbuilt display screen lets you more accurately align the camera so you know exactly what it’s recording and can also be useful if you ever have to pick the camera up and actually point it out a side window to record something.

What the experts say about dash cams

Shane Fischer, personal injury attorney:

“On almost every claim I have with minor property damage, the other side argues that my client can’t possibly be injured unless the car was totaled, or nearly totaled. Having a dash cam showing the impact would convince jurors that you can’t just look at the amount of damage to the cars to determine the severity of the injury.”

Fischer can appreciate dash cams because they show a live video of the accident, not just the aftermath. This can help him win cases as a dash cam can show the severity of a car crash, even when the cars involved remain relatively undamaged.

Tracy Noble, Australian Automobile Association spokesperson:

“From an insurance standpoint, they could be used to clear up accidents and hit-and-run claims as an objective observer in a crash instead of the ‘he said, she said’ account. A camera could be a reliable source of information.”

The Australian Automobile Association looks towards the future of motoring and many agree that dash cams have a definite place there, helping to clear up the difficult issue of fault in car accidents.

Christopher McCann, criminal defense attorney:

“In the past, all they had was the cop’s word for it,” McCann says, speaking on how dash cams are useful in his job as a DUI defense specialist, and how they can help hold more people, both police and the public, accountable. “People are more likely to behave better when they know someone is watching them.”

Even though police vehicles are usually equipped with dash cams by default, McCann says his clients frequently dispute the results of field sobriety tests and points out that having a second camera on the scene can give a different perspective.

Your dash cam questions answered

How much do dash cams cost?

Cheap ones will set you back as little as $30 or $40, while top-of-the-line models can cost over $600.

Is it legal to film with a dash cam and are there any privacy issues I should know about?

Yes, it is perfectly legal to film in public spaces, such as on the road, with a dash cam. However, if you drive onto someone’s private property and they ask you to turn it off then you should oblige. There may be privacy issues when uploading videos to public spaces such as YouTube, if the film reveals the identity of someone without their approval.

Can I install a dash cam myself?

Yes. Dash cams are meant to DIY jobs, and generally come with very straightforward attachments and installation manuals. Even if you’re not very technically inclined you should still have no problems.

What format do dash cams record in?

Typically dash cams will record in .AVI, .MOV or .MP4 format. These are generally compatible with most video players.

Images: Shutterstock

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