United States: Dashcams: Not Just For Viral Videos

Mauril Aldophe thought he had a personal injury payday coming from Beck's Towing of Boynton Beach, Florida. He told police and a medical clinic that a tow truck had rear-ended him. The problem for Aldophe: the tow truck involved in the crash was equipped with a dashcam. The dashcam footage showed what really happened; Aldophe stopped abruptly in the middle of the road in front of the tow truck. When the tow truck driver reacted in time to avoid a collision, Aldophe drove forward several feet and threw his car into reverse, slamming the rear of his vehicle into the front of the tow truck.

This recent U.S. news story is an extreme example, but it illustrates why dashcam use has been growing exponentially across the globe in recent years. According to WardsAuto, a study by Accident Exchange shows that as of October 30, 2017, use of dashcam footage in auto insurance claims had risen 285 percent since January 2015. Russian drivers have been, perhaps, at the forefront of this trend − YouTube viewers have been entertained for years by hours of footage uploaded to the site showing vehicular carnage on Russia's snow-covered roads. Russian drivers reportedly began recording their commutes because of widespread insurance scams such as the one Aldophe tried in Florida.

Although use of dashcams originally sprang from the desire to protect against insurance scams, the increasing sophistication and decreasing cost of these devices are no doubt fueling the continued growth of their use by commercial drivers. The most basic models can be found on Amazon.com for less than $20. They can be set to begin recording automatically when the vehicle is turned on and will record in a continuous loop − overwriting unneeded footage of uneventful commutes and trips to soccer practice.

More sophisticated dashcam models, which can be purchased for less than $200, can sense a collision to automatically save relevant footage and can affix GPS location information to the recording. Other features for these dashcams include wide-angle recording, improved low-light quality for night driving, advance collision warning, speed data recording, audio recording, and synchronized interior and exterior views showing the driver's actions in sync with road conditions.

The benefits for commercial trucking companies and their drivers are obvious. Like Beck's Towing, companies and drivers can protect themselves from scammers looking for a quick payday. There are benefits for less egregious cases, too. A case in Kendall County, Illinois, centered on whether (1) a trucking defendant's driver veered across the fog line onto the shoulder of a dark rural highway to strike an intoxicated pedestrian or (2) the drunken man had wandered into the lane of travel. Dashcam footage would have answered that question immediately − likely avoiding the multiyear litigation that resulted. And dashcam footage could be useful in evaluation of damages, too. Footage of a supposedly injured plaintiff walking around following an accident can be useful in probing a claimant's credibility regarding the extent of a claimed injury.

Of course, dashcam footage also could be a double-edged sword, showing a truck driver's distracted driving. A year ago, a Polish truck driver was sentenced to 10 years in prison after he plowed into stopped traffic, killing a woman and her three children. Dashcam footage showed him looking down scrolling through his cell phone in the seconds before impact. In another case in Arizona, a truck driver was found to have been looking at photos of scantily clad women on his cell phone as he careened into stopped highway traffic. Evidence such as this can quickly open a defendant trucking company to significant exposure. Evidence of this misconduct might otherwise have been discovered through analysis of a cell phone or the records of the service provider.

These dashcams also may allow companies to monitor their drivers' activities to confirm regulatory compliance and compliance with company rules. The known existence of these dashcams may serve as a deterrent to misconduct by drivers who will certainly be aware of the fact that their activities are being recorded.

Another consideration regarding the use of dashcams is that in many states laws restrict placement of potential obstructions on vehicle windshields. Evidence that a dashcam was positioned in violation of such a law, or that a dashcam obstructed the driver's view, could provide a claimant with some leverage to the extent they can show that the dashcam's placement might have contributed to an accident. Still another consideration is that audio recording of in-cab conversations may run afoul of eavesdropping laws. Most dashcams allow for audio recording to be disabled to comply with such laws.

In the near future, self-driving trucks and cars may remove the human equation altogether. The data used to power these vehicles and to "drive" them − including GPS location, speed, video, proximity and extensive data-monitoring systems − likely will be available to investigate accidents that aren't prevented by the self-driving technology. Until self-driving vehicles arrive and become commonplace, dashcam footage is another valuable data point that commercial trucking companies and drivers can add to their fleets to aid in investigation of crashes.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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