We live in a world where almost every journey we take, whether on foot, by bike or in a car, is caught on film. That may be via a privately operated CCTV system or a council-owned surveillance system. But these set-ups often have blind spots, which you can fill in, by installing a dash camera in your car.
What is a dash camera?
A dash camera is a small camera that connects to your 12V accessory socket and continuously records the surroundings of your vehicle. Often, they have a suction cup mount so you can place them behind your rearview mirror. In the event of an accident, you hit the "save footage" button and transfer the file to your computer. Your car insurer (and the police) may well use the footage in order to determine the timeline of events leading to a crash and to apportion blame.
Will you save money on your car insurance if you install a dashcam? Right now, you won't save money directly on your premiums. In the future, it is quite possible that insurers may offer incentives to install one, similar to how black box/telematics policies work. They may well fall into the category of active safety equipment, which NRMA does offer 15% discounts for.
An NRMA insurance spokesperson said this about their stance on dashcams:
"We currently do not have plans to offer insurance premium discounts to customers who have dashboard cameras installed in their car; however, we encourage customers to submit relevant footage of an incident so it can be considered as part of a claim."
James Spence, a spokesperson for Suncorp insurance, had this to say:
"Car insurance premiums are calculated based on a variety of factors that impact risk. While dashcams assist in identifying the cause of an accident, they don't lessen the risk of accidents occurring, and therefore don't directly impact the insurance premium."
That isn't to say that you don't save any dollars at all, because if you have a smash that wasn't your fault and your dashcam proves this, you can keep your no claim bonus and avoid having to pay a hefty excess. This will also stop your policy fees rising at renewal time.
No claim bonus explained
Many car insurers offer a no claim bonus (NCB) to customers who build up a history of safe, accident-free driving. Some insurers will call it a no claim discount.
NCBs accrue on a yearly basis, up to a maximum of five years. At this stage, you achieve "Rating 1" status. Having a no claims history should save you money on insurance, but you should always shop around.
Car insurers are in the business of risk. They take many factors into consideration in order to build a risk profile of you as a car owner. This includes things like your age, your driving history, the type of vehicle you have, how you use your car and where you park your vehicle. Other considerations include the excess you are willing to pay and the coverage level you take out.
- A vigilant, impartial witness: Having a dash camera installed and properly adjusted is like having an impartial witness sitting beside you wherever you drive. If you have a bump or an accident where the other party disputes your version of events, the video file can provide clarification of what really transpired.
- Stops insurance fraud: Dashcams help squash fraudulent car insurance claims. Why should you care? Well, insurance fraud drives up the premiums of car insurance for everyone. A 2016 news report showed that in Sydney, CTP insurance claims ballooned by 39%, despite a fall in road injuries.
- Could save you money: If you have an accident that wasn't your fault, a dashcam can uphold your claim and ensure you don't have to fork out an excess, while maintaining your no claim history.
- Improve your driving: If you know you have a watchful eye over your driving at all times, it may cause you to drive in a more cautious and defensive manner.
- Keep tabs on your kids: If you have a teenager that uses your car, a dash camera can provide a record to make sure they're not hooning around or going to undesirable places.
- Watch over your parked car: Some dash cameras have motion detection that enables them to record when your car is switched off (you'll have to hardwire for this kind of install). Look for models that list parking protection, monitoring or parked recording as a feature. This way, if someone comes along and keys your car or unsuccessfully tries to break in, you'll have footage of the event, including the person's identity.
- May save time: If you have to make a claim without video footage, you'll probably have to submit some drawings showing the way the crash unfolded. Having a clip of the incident could speed up the claiming process.
Dashcams can provide potentially admissible evidence of the events leading up to an accident and the actual crash itself.
Our NRMA insurance spokesperson said they use dashcam footage as part of the traditional claim investigation process.
"Dashboard camera footage can assist us in the claims process by helping to determine liability; however, other information such as police reports, witness statements, driver statements and adherence to road rules will also be taken into account when investigating a claim."
Spence from Suncorp insurance stated, "in some cases, dashcam footage is more valuable than witness statements, especially if it is clear and captures the direct cause of an accident".
If you have a recording of an incident, how do you submit it to your insurer? According to Suncorp, you can use any method, but they prefer a USB drive where possible.
"Customers can submit footage in any video format or medium, with our preference being on a USB", Spence explained.
Other options include creating a CD or uploading the video privately to Google Drive or YouTube (making sure it is not a public video). Obviously, you want to retain the original footage, in case it gets lost or corrupted in the post. Don't send them your dashcam!
Yes, dashcams are covered by insurance – at least on comprehensive policies, as they are viewed as part of the vehicle, though Spence from Suncorp insurance suggested you should always check your policy's small print.
"Under Suncorp's comprehensive insurance policies, we consider dash cams an accessory and therefore would form part of the car for insurance purposes and would be covered. We always advise people to check their own Product Disclosure Statement to see their relevant cover and limits available."
As with all things in life, there are some caveats to using a dashcam. Traditional models only record from one angle through a single lens. This is important as NRMA told us the most disputed crash types they dealt with are as follows:
"We find the most common claim disputes arise in relation to collisions that have occurred at intersections, while changing lanes, colour of lights changing, reversing or when a parked car was hit by an unknown third party."
That backs up statistics on the most common crash types.
- Side-on (also known as a t-bone)
- Head on
- Running off a straight stretch of road
- Leaving the road on a bend
In the top two most common incident types, rear-end and side-on accidents, a standard dashcam may not capture the incident. For full coverage, it's best to look at models with a 360-degree view or install multiple cameras.
Fancier models include multiple lenses, to give a view of the passenger cabin as well as through the windscreen. They may also have Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connectivity and 360 views.
When selecting a dashcam, look for models with GPS which stamp the speed, location and direction of travel on to the video file. Also, make sure you spend time looking at video samples on YouTube, both during the day and at night. Cameras with a wide dynamic range will be able to adapt to differing light levels to film usable footage. 4K cameras or those with a resolution of 1,080P HD provide the most detailed videos.
Don't forget to grab yourself a good quality SD card that is compatible with your dash camera. The higher the MB/s writing standard, the less likely the camera will drop critical frames and the higher the storage capacity, the more footage you can record. 4K is best for digital enlargement of licence plates.
The majority of dashcams simply plug into a 12V accessory socket. This does mean though that, depending on your car model, they won't have power with the engine switched off.
To have your camera powered at all times, you'll need to do a hardwire install. This isn't too tricky; it simply involves finding (or running) a constant live power and ground cable to the camera. If you know anything about basic electrical work, it's not difficult, and you only need a few simple hand tools. If you have a crimper, you can put connectors on to allow for removal in case you need to clean or adjust your camera. Just make sure you place a fuse on the power cable to protect the camera and run your cables behind trim and under your headlining to stop them from falling into your vision and make the installation look as neat as possible.
If all this sounds like a headache, contact an auto electrician to have your camera professionally installed.
Dash cameras and the law
Dash cameras are legal to use in all states and territories. However, you must be careful that your recording doesn't violate someone else's privacy, at least in the eyes of a court of law.
It may also be an issue if the recording is within the bounds of a private property, or also happened to capture a private act like a conversation without permission.
You should also think twice about uploading the footage online for public distribution, as this has other legal ramifications.
The camera must be positioned so it does not distract the driver or infringe upon their field of view. You can read the specific ADR ruling here. It should also be secure and not located where it could cause injury to passengers in an accident.
Finally, for your own safety, never operate or fiddle with the dashcam while moving or with the car's engine running.
When we contacted NSW Police to ask them about their position on dash cameras, a police spokesperson stated:
"Police support any measure that benefits road safety for all road users."
A good dashcam doesn't have to cost the earth. You should check our dashcam comparison page for help finding a model that fits your needs and budget.
Keep an eye out for models that have 4K or 1,080P HD footage. 4K can be digitally enlarged to pick out fine details like licence plates or faces. A wider viewing angle will obviously capture a broader plane of view, but because of a fish-eye effect, the edges of the frame can be distorted. There are dozens of sample footage videos and reviews online to look through. Check the product photos to make sure you're getting a model with a 3M adhesive mount, as 3M is the highest regarded manufacturer of sticky pads. Parking mode is a must, but your camera needs to be wired correctly for it.
Finally, look for models with a lot of dynamic range, so they can adapt and record dark scenes and areas of high contrast (around tall buildings on sunny days, for example).
Currently, the only manufacturer marketing factory-fitted dashcams in Australia is the French car maker, Citroën. It's a $600 optional extra on the C3, known as the ConnectedCAM.
Interestingly, the Citroën optional camera doesn't really pitch itself as a safety feature, but rather a way to quickly share interesting things you see with friends. The only other car we know that has an integrated front camera is the Cadillac CT6, which was spotted being tested in Geelong, Victoria this year, so it could arrive here sometime in the next few years. Expect more manufacturers to follow suit as cars get more and more active safety features.
With that said, many countries do not allow the use of dashcams, so manufacturers packaging them into a car's build may be held back by those markets.
More and more car makers are integrating active safety assists that can warn or even act on behalf of a driver if they get too close to an obstacle or person. Some insurers, like NRMA, will offer discounts of up to 15% for owners of cars with autonomous emergency braking.
Telematics can also help reduce your insurance expenses, especially for younger and high-risk drivers. The reasoning is the black box tells insurers what times of day you're driving and how aggressively you drive.
You might also lower your insurance premium by upgrading your vehicle security. There are excellent GPS trackers on sale now that allow you to locate your car in real time. They can also send alerts to your phone, so if your car is stolen, you can report it to the police and provide them with information on your vehicle's whereabouts.
Finally, if you're still not sure whether you should buy a dashcam, watch this video and imagine how you'd explain it to your car insurer:
"Honestly, a wheelie bin just fell from the sky."
That was a wheelie close call.