With the high levels of safety and built-in collision systems that form part of most modern cars, a minor accident can cost thousands of dollars in repairs. Worse still, when there is a dispute about who is at fault, it can at times become problematic for the victim.
But there appears to be an easy solution – having a dashcam installed that records everything that happens while you’re driving.
For the last few weeks I have been testing two units from Kogan, a $79 dashcam with built in GPS and another unit without the GPS ($39) functionality.
The idea of this test was simple, does a small investment in a dashcam make sense for regular drivers and what are the legal implications for and against having one fitted?
Before we get to that though, it is important to point out that dashcams are indeed legal to use in Australia. They are treated in the same way as satellite navigation systems, so as long as they do not obstruct vision and are not touched while driving, there’s no issue.
The Kogan systems we are reviewing are pretty easy to install, you need to insert a memory card – the bigger the better as it means you’ll have a relatively large backlog of footage in case you need it – then just attach the suction mount on your windscreen and click the camera in. You can attach the GPS component as easily.
The power cord plugs in to your cigarette lighter and the unit is smart enough to turn on when the car turns on and automatically start recording, then turn off a few seconds after you’ve turned your car off. You can force it to remain on and record given it has a battery, but I can’t think of too many situations where that would be useful.
Legally you can record and use video obtained anywhere in public, but footage taken inside a private property can be a little trickier.
By now there’s little doubt that you would’ve seen some amazing dashcam footage from Vladimir Putin’s native land of Russia. The proliferation of dash-based video cameras in Mother Russia is extremely high, mainly due to rampant fraud, where insurance companies all but require actual footage before processing a claim.
In Australia, insurance companies are still a little bit more relaxed and something as straight forward as a basic rear-ending will for the most part be an open and shut case.
But what if there is a situation where another vehicle is the cause of an accident but is not actually part of it? How can that be proven without hard evidence? Or perhaps there is a dispute about who is at fault after a minor accident? The list of potential issues where basic camera footage can come in handy is endless.
In some cases dash camera footage has also been successfully used to dispute speeding tickets, for example if another car’s actions mandated the need to speed up to avoid an accident or if a driver was showing erratic behavior which was best avoided.
When you think about it, though, there are some situations where having a dashcam might work against you.
If you tend to go past the speed limit on the odd occasion, the evidence will be on your memory card at all times. Not that police have the right to go through your camera (you can always remove the memory card relatively quickly if the situation requires it).
Also if you do have an accident and it is your fault, there’s basically no dispute when the footage is examined. Though it is important to note that you are not obliged to hand the footage over unless requested by police.
Dashcams range from as little as $39 (including shipping) to a few hundred dollars and the difference is mainly the amount of data (GPS, speed etc) and video quality that is being recorded.
Our more expensive test unit had two cameras, one for the front and one for the rear, meaning it always had the driver and passengers in view (better not use your phone!). You can turn the backward facing vision off, if you wish, however it also means you will miss out on footage of what is happening behind you.
The actual unit itself worked flawlessly and initiates quicker than our Mercedes-Benz’s infotainment system, meaning you won’t miss much from the moment you turn it on.
If you have an accident, the in-built G-Sensor will note the sudden deceleration and will record an additional few minutes of footage after the impact before turning itself off. This helps avoid overwriting the existing footage of the accident.
Initially it took a little bit of time to get used to having a camera mounted on the windscreen, but after a few days it became basically just part of the car and went about unnoticed.
Viewing the footage from the unit (1280 x 480 pixel resolution in dual cam mode, 640 x 480 in single cam mode) was relatively easy, but the GPS software required to match the video to the location wasn’t Mac OS X compatible, meaning we had to find a Windows machine to make it work.
For another $50-70 you can get one of the HP units from Kogan that will record in Full HD (1920×1080) and have less compatibility issues with GPS tracking.
Overall though, regardless of what Dashcam you end up buying, having one is essential considering the insurance premiums and potential legal nightmares you may have following an accident. Even if you never have an accident, with the increasing rate of road rage in Australia the footage obtained can help police take necessary action when required.
If you want my advice, the small upfront investment for the peace of mind required to drive on Australian roads is well and truly worth it.