Dashboard cameras, known for dramatic police videos and shots of meteors streaking across the sky, have gone mainstream as more people document their experiences on the road.
Now there are three times as many online searches for terms like “dash cam” as there are for autonomous driving, according to new data from Google. U.S. wholesale shipments of dash cams are expected to hit 285,000 this year, up 20% from 2017, according to the CTA, which follows market trends.
It’s “a huge consumer-led trend,” Google’s 2018 Automotive Trends Report noted.
“Consumers feel supported on the road with a second set of eyes. They want protection, as well as proof, in case of an incident,” the report said.
A dash cam is a small video camera mounted on a car’s dashboard or windshield to record what’s happened in front of the vehicle, and sometimes, what’s also happened behind it. More people are using dash cams to show who was at fault in a traffic crash and for time-lapse videos of storms and road trips.
“If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video must be worth 10 thousand,” said Steve Koenig, senior director of research for the Consumer Technology Association.
The cameras range in price from less than $100 to more than $400, with some models capable of capturing multiple views around a vehicle. Some record audio inside a car and have a motion sensor that triggers the camera in the event of a hit-and-run parking lot incident.
A dash cam can document the moments leading up to a traffic accident, second by second, time-stamped with information such as vehicle speed.
“It takes all the guesswork out of it,” said attorney Jason Abraham with the law firm Hupy & Abraham.
Meteors and collision avoidance
YouTube has scores of dash-cam videos documenting dangerous driving, dramatic rescues and lighter moments such as buffalo crossing the road.
In 2013, Russian dash cams captured a 10-ton meteor streaking across the sky before crashing to Earth. The cameras are common in Russia, where they’re used as cheap video protection against insurance fraud, angry drivers and charges by corrupt police.
Advances in technology have resulted in dash cams that are smaller and less obtrusive in a vehicle. Some capture a very wide viewing angle, produce high-definition videos and have pretty good night vision.
Always on watch
Dash cams record in a continuous loop, meaning that after a while, they’re going to record over the previous documented scenes unless they’re saved by the user. The larger the storage capacity, the more hours can be preserved.
Some dash cams have a collision-avoidance sensor that trips an audible alarm if you’re too close to the vehicle ahead of you in traffic. And some have a sensor that trips an alarm if you drift outside of your lane.
Things to look for in a dash cam include:
• Video resolution. Shoot for at least 1080p.
• Low-light capability. For when it’s dark outside.
• Ample storage. You should have at least 32 gigabytes, according to Consumer Reports magazine.
• Long loop times. Five-minute files are best so you don’t record over essential footage.
• Ease of use. You don’t want to have to think about it, said Jake Fisher, director of auto testing for Consumer Reports.
“Some of the very simple ones are just fine. You don’t need all the bells and whistles,” Fisher said.
Most dash cams are mounted to the windshield, but keep in mind it could be illegal in states that prohibit or restrict electronic devices on the windshield.
Make sure that gadgets like a dash cam, a GPS or a cellphone don’t obstruct your view of traffic and pedestrians, said Wisconsin State Patrol Sgt. David Harvey.
A dash cam can be mounted on a car’s back window to capture what happens behind the vehicle, such as someone following too closely or a rear-end collision.
But don’t forget that your video footage could be used against you in court if you’re at fault in an accident.
“There is generally no legal obligation to save your dash cam footage. However, destroying it could lead to legal complications in the case of a criminal investigation or civil action,” Consumer Reports says.