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On-board cameras or dashcams: Worth it or Not?

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First of all, what do we mean by an onboard camera?

A dashboard-mounted camera (hence the term dashcam) is a small camera mounted on the dashboard or windshield of your car, facing the road. You can also have a rear dashboard camera. It lights up when you start the engine and records your entire trip.

In-car camera footage can be time-stamped so that it is tamper-proof, making it an excellent source of evidence for any type of traffic incident.

There are 3 main types of in-car cameras or DashCams:

- Front view dashboard cameras capture everything in front of you, including the traffic you are following. They are basic and the cheapest cameras on the market. They don't have the ability to see what's happening behind you.
- Slightly more advanced cameras will record the front and rear view of your car. Many road accidents occur at low speeds and involve rear-end collisions. Investing in in-car cameras that offer both views might be worth it in case you are ever involved in such an accident.

- Cabin view cameras provide an overview of what happens inside your car. Mainly used in cabs and car services, they can be useful if you share a car or if you want to check your own driving habits.

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On-board cameras, from the outside
Photo: Wikipedia
On-board cameras, from the outside

Why install a dashcam?

Dashboard cameras start at about $50. Most record hours of video in a continuous loop, with recent video replacing old footage when you start the car. More sophisticated cameras can record even when the car is turned off - triggered by motion sensors - or be equipped with GPS sensors that overlay time, speed and location.

It's an effective way to see how we and others drive, and useful for finding out who is responsible for a car accident. And if you ever break down, a dashboard camera can act as a GPS tracker to help emergency services find you.

Police also use video from dashboard cameras in their cars, and the images they record are often used as evidence when chasing dangerous drivers.

Are in-car cameras legal?

In several European countries, these cameras are legal and have been in use for several years now. In Canada, motorists are also allowed to use dashcams as long as they do not interfere with the visibility or proper operation of the vehicle.

A dashcam
A dashcam

Where do I install my dashboard camera?

You will probably install the dashboard camera yourself, although more and more manufacturers are offering dashboard cameras as an accessory. Depending on which dashboard camera you go with, it can be mounted on your dashboard or on your windshield. Either way, you will want to make sure that it does not interfere with your line of sight. It's also a very good idea to make sure that the camera captures a clear view of the road. No matter where you place it in your car, make sure it's securely installed, and don't touch it while driving.

Will these cameras reduce my insurance?

The majority of insurers do not offer discounts or reductions on the use of these in-car cameras. However, your insurer will be happy to use your camera as a witness and thus attribute fault in an accident.

Even if they don’t reduce your insurance premiums, in-car cameras can help to provide evidence in the event of a collision on the road.

Other example: if you are stopped for a traffic violation that you did not commit, offer the images from your dashboard camera to the law enforcement officer before the ticket is written. If the officer does not look at it, take the images to court to contest the ticket.

An on-board camera, on a windshield
An on-board camera, on a windshield

Onboard cameras as benign spies

If you have a young driver at home, you know you will pay a surcharge to let them use your vehicle. Insurers charge higher rates for them because of their lack of driving experience and more-frequent claims. Any effort that can help prevent a young driver from developing bad habits is a good thing.

With an in-car camera, you can review the images from it and see what your child can do to improve. The first few months behind the wheel are the most dangerous ones, and they require a refresher course to ensure that the young driver can develop good habits right from the start. In this case, a two-way dashboard camera for a young driver might be a good idea. This way you can see how your young driver is driving, but also what is going on inside the vehicle. Is your teen paying attention to the road where there are distractions? This will help you limit bad behaviour inside the car before it leads to an accident.

Cameras as guard dogs

The on-board camera (or DashCam) can also be used as a watchdog! Most dashboard cameras have an option that allows you to activate them in standby mode, which means that the camera turns on only if there is movement in or around the car. This way, if someone breaks into your car or hits your parked car and flees, you can film and track the perpetrator and give the images to the police.