Q: I keep seeing the insane videos from Russian dash cams. Considering how crazy drivers are getting, should I have a dash cam in my car?
A: Videos of nearly cataclysmic meteorites or a livestock truck losing its load of cows do have a way of bringing light to a little-known subject like dashboard surveillance cameras. Their ubiquity in Russia (see screen shots of You Tube car crash compilations, right) is a result of high rates of insurance fraud and the need to have irrefutable evidence in a court of law. Dash cams have been in use by US law enforcement for decades, which you’ve no doubt seen on countless late-night syndicated TV shows, but they’ve historically been expensive and complicated. With high-quality digital cameras now cheap as dirt, in-car recorders can be had for the price of a fill-up.
A typical set-up consists of a basic fixed-lens digital camera and microphone that records to a media card; the unit mounts to the front window with a suction cup and adjustable armature. The camera records on a continuous loop. Power comes from a standard 12-volt plug or by direct wiring to an accessory circuit. Low-end cameras record low-resolution video and have hard-to-use controls. Step up to a midrange unit like the one shown, and you can expect HD resolution, a colour display, embedded GPS location data and time-stamp overlays, and maybe even two lenses – one for front-view recording and one for in-cabin. Top-of-the-line models add features such as an extra rear-mounted camera.
Having clear evidence recorded on camera is likely to provide compelling evidence in court and can protect you from fraudsters. Reduced fraud means lower payouts for or legal costs to insurance companies, which translates – indirectly – to potentially lower rates to customers in the future. In the real world, it means you win and the other guy loses in a dispute.