If you’re thinking about getting a dash cam for your car, you’re not alone.
While car camera recording devices are very popular in other countries (just do an online search for “Russian dash cam footage” to see some very entertaining video), they haven’t fully caught on yet in the United States.
However, that’s starting to change. According to Google search data (as of February 2017), there are more than 200,000 U.S. searches for dash cam information every month.
And, those numbers have been steadily rising. Here’s a Google search graph that shows data for the past three years. As you can see, three years ago, average searches for dash cam information was about half of what it is currently.
The rise in interest around dash cams is no surprise.
Reasons for Buying a Dash Cam
We live in an increasingly litigious society. It seems like anyone can be sued for practically anything on any given day.
Since most of us spend a significant amount of time in our cars, the odds of being involved in an automobile-related incident are fairly high. It makes sense that you may want to find ways to protect yourself.
The most common reasons for installing a dash cam:
- Document an accident – If you’re involved in an accident, video footage of the incident may be invaluable. Without video, an investigating officer will have to rely on the statements of the involved parties as well as any witnesses. Since eyewitness testimony is notoriously inaccurate, video supporting your version of events could save you money and potential negative impact on your driving record.
- Evidence to fight a ticket – While the overwhelming majority of law enforcement officers are honest and ethical, that doesn’t mean they’re perfect. Human error happens and equipment malfunctions. There can be any number of reasons why the ticket you were issued may have been a mistake and dash cam footage might give you the evidence you need to fight it successfully.
- Watch your teenager’s driving – It’s a fact; teenage drivers are much likelier to be involved in a crash than drivers of any other age group.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety:
“In the United States, teenagers drive less than all but the oldest people, but their numbers of crashes and crash deaths are disproportionately high. In the United States, the fatal crash rate per mile driven for 16-19 year-olds is nearly 3 times the rate for drivers ages 20 and over. Risk is highest at ages 16-17. In fact, the fatal crash rate per mile driven is nearly twice as high for 16-17 year-olds as it is for 18-19 year-olds.”
Installing a dash cam and using it to regularly review your teen’s driving habits can be an important tool to coach them to improve their driving habits (and hopefully avoid an accident) while they gain the necessary skills and experience to become a safe driver.
- Protect your parked car – A common feature of higher-end dash cams is the ability to go into standby mode and activate when movement is detected in your car. If your vehicle is hit or vandalized while unoccupied, a dash cam may help find the culprits.
- Improve your driving – Installing a dash cam may actually make you a better driver. Just knowing that you’re being filmed, and the fact that footage may be viewed by others at some point can have a positive impact on your driving habits. We all tend to behave just a bit better when we know we’re being watched!
When we evaluate dash cams, (see our reviews here) we look for the following:
- Size of unit – The size of the camera unit, also known as its “form factor,” is an important consideration. As mentioned in the section below on legal considerations, many municipalities have limits on the size of any windshield obstructions. In general, the smaller the unit’s form factor, the better – as long as it’s large enough to provide the features and quality you desire.
- Video quality – 1080p recording resolution is the common standard for today’s dash cams, even in lower priced units. Steer clear of anything with lower resolution.
- Length of recording – Total length of recording time is one of the most important considerations in your dash cam purchase. Most units segment or “chop” their recordings into smaller time frames – typically one to three minutes in length. That means while your dash cam is running, it’s recording continuously but is constantly creating short, little video files of a few minutes. (This makes much more sense than creating one giant video file lasting several hours.)
- Once a dash cam reaches its total memory storage limit, it then starts recording over the oldest video file. The total length of video your camera will record (adding up all the individual, short video files) will depend on the available internal memory of the unit as well as any additional memory (such as an SD card).
- Make certain any unit you purchase has enough total memory or can accept more memory, to record the length of video that works for your situation.
- Type of mount and ease of installation – Suction cup and adhesive mounting are the most common types available. While adhesive mounting is usually more secure, suction mounting allows you to reposition the unit or move it to another vehicle.
- Another option is using a mounting “sandbag,” which is a weighted platform that sits on your dash and relies on friction to keep your dash cam in place. While sandbags have the advantage of being very easy to use, they can easily be dislodged by sudden car movements (such as in an accident – the type of situation when you’d most want your camera to stay in place).
- Field of view – One of your first considerations is if you want a unit that only records in one direction (typically towards the front) or if you want the ability to record in two directions (front and back). Obviously, the ability to record in two directions comes with a higher price tag. However, that ability makes your system much more useful – giving you video footage of everything in front of you as well as behind.
- You’ll also want to consider the recording angle capability of any unit you’re considering. The wider the degree of recording, the more your camera will capture. Many mid-price units come with a healthy 170-degree recording angle while cheaper units can have recording angles of 120 degrees (or less) which can severely restrict what your camera “sees” on the outside edges of your field of vision.
- GPS capability – Higher end units have the capability to include GPS data along with video recording, allowing the data to be combined with Google maps. This can be a valuable feature for certain applications, such as tracking commercial vehicles or teenage drivers.
- Manufacturer & Warranty – a quick online search for dash cams shows a TON of buying options, some with incredibly cheap price points. However, like most other electronics, the dash cam world has been overrun with cheap, knockoff brands. What seems like a great deal may end up being a waste of money as you end up with a unit that quickly fails and you have no way to get your money back or get your camera repaired.
- A warranty is only as good as the manufacturer that stands behind it. So, make sure you do your research (or take advantage of ours here) before you invest your hard-earned cash.
Like most pieces of technology, you get what you pay for.
If you’re looking for a basic, starter unit, you can buy one for as little as $30. As you move up in quality and capabilities, prices rise steadily.
At this time, the average price-point for a cam with quality features and solid recording time will cost you about $100.
However, technology always advances. That means prices tend to come down while quality and capabilities improve. Dash cams should be no different and we can likely expect prices to gradually drop over time.
Before you run over to our dash cam review page and find the perfect one for yourself, we need to discuss potential legal implications.
While the laws concerning dash cams vary by country, if you’re in the United States, there is no current federal law impacting your dash cam purchase decision.
However, state and local laws can complicate the situation a bit.
The first potential complication is the topic of audio recording. Several states have what is called “two-party consent” notification requirements. That means all parties involved in recording audio, need to be informed of that fact.
Notice, I said “audio” not video. At the time of this writing, there are no laws limiting the recording of video in public places. If you live, or drive, in a two-party consent location, you’ll want to purchase a dash cam without audio recording or disable that feature.
As of the time of writing this article, the states noted in red on the map below, have some form of two-party consent audio recording regulations. (Hawaii’s requirements are too complex to discuss here. If you live in Hawaii, you’ll need to do additional research.)
If you live in (or plan on using your dash cam in) one of these states, you’ll want to avoid audio recording with your dash cam.
The other consideration is windshield obstruction. Some jurisdictions limit the amount of windshield space that you can utilize for a dash cam.
While the specifics of these regulations vary by locale, you should generally be safe if your dash cam doesn’t obscure more than a 5 inch square on the driver’s side or a 7 inch square on the passenger’s side.
(Be sure to do your own research on dash cam legal requirements in your location. We make every attempt to be accurate, but laws change frequently and there’s no way we can track regulations in every municipality. We recommend you visit your local police station to verify requirements in your area.)
While no major auto insurance company currently offers a discount for dash cam-equipped vehicles, that doesn’t mean that won’t change.
Insurance companies issue discounts for devices and activities that are correlated to accident reduction. At this time, there’s no data showing that having a dash cam makes you a better driver.
Dash cams are extremely popular in other parts of the world and they’re catching on quickly here in the United States.
We live in a world where more and more of our daily lives are being filmed – by the people around us, by law enforcement and even by corporations. While many of us don’t appreciate that trend, the genie is well out of the bottle. We can either pretend it’s not happening or we can take advantage of the technology for ourselves.
As a form of insurance against the stupidity of others, installing a dash cam can be very cheap protection!
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