Britain’s roads are safer than ever when it comes to injuries and fatalities – and if you’re in the market you can’t help but notice the majority of cars for sale under 10 years old will have achieved high Euro NCAP scores and display excellent handling, grip, and braking compared to second-hand models you’d have bought in the 1990s or early 2000s.
But that doesn’t mean accidents have ceased. Not at all; before the impact of Covid on driving habits UK insurance claims rose from 3.7 million in 2012 to 4.8 million in 2015; there are over 31 million cars on the road, and statistics show drivers reducing distances, driving more aggressively, and a larger number of rear-end shunts and minor accidents.
People may be safer in cars, but drivers have not become safer themselves. With excesses to pay, time off the road, and inevitable inconvenience even if your claim is clear cut, if you’re involved in an accident where responsibility is disputed you could lose weeks, lose value on your car, and lose your no claims bonus resulting in significantly higher insurance premiums.
There’s one device that can help mitigate the inconvenience, even if it can’t prevent an accident. The humble dashcam has gone from being a quirky gadget for fleets and professional drivers to a must-have for all road users (even cyclists are wearing them, as Ronnie Pickering will never forget). For less than the cost of a typical insurance excess, you can get recordings of traffic ahead of and behind your car, time-stamped, GPS-tracked, and accepted as evidence for insurance and legal claims.
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Protection on the road and at home? Connected cam = CCTV in your car
You don’t need to spend a fortune, as this guide to the best budget dash cams reveals, but if you spend a little more on a hardwiring kit and 4G orWiFi-connected camera, many dashcams will provide a parked cover for your car.
This can extend to live updates if the car is tampered with, motion sensing, and even live GPS tracking of your car’s location beyond a user-specified boundary.
Some of these connected cameras, such as the Thinkware T700 and Q1000, can be used to help family and relatives by seeing where they are when lost, or equally double-checking that the person who borrowed your car has been treating it with respect. But the main benefit is that your driveway, on-street parking, or work/train station car park are just as protected as when you are driving.
Most of these cameras upload footage to cloud storage as long as they have access to a data connection, so even if your car is stolen or vandalized the evidence is already submitted. As thieves become more aware, the presence of such a camera could be an effective deterrent.
Will the dashcam incriminate me?
If you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear, the saying goes. Inappropriate speed is a significant contributor to the severity of many accidents, and in good conditions, the law’s stance is the limit is appropriate – so your speed-stamped 78mph on a motorway when someone pulls into your lane may not be the defence you had hoped for.
Likewise, if you’re doing 60mph in thick fog and the car in front brake-checks you (known as a slam-on in insurance fraud circles), don’t expect much sympathy even if the legal limit was higher.
However, the benefits far outweigh the need to be more considerate (or ‘driving as if you’re being observed’). Situations frequently debated as ‘knock-for-knock’, such as the wrong lane on a roundabout or a drifting HGV, or ones relevant to recent changes to the Highway Code such as a cyclist not slowing or running a red light – or weaving near you when you gave enough space. Even the unthinkable – an accident involving a pedestrian – will all be much easier to explain without emotion or anxiety if you can just hand over a recording.
In some cases, the footage could be the difference between getting over a traumatic accident or getting a prison sentence. As an insurance policy, the dashcam is pretty good value.
Can a dashcam do anything else?
This is the era of multitasking. Your phone is also a camera and a video streaming device, a new car is an entertainment centre, and some can even power your house in a power cut. Your dashcam is ready to give your second-hand car some of the advantages of new models, too.
The most common ‘new car’ feature you can get from a dashcam is ‘lane keeping/distance alerts’. These warnings are simply based on interpreting what the camera sees and will beep if you wander out of the lane or tailgate.
Naturally, they also record the footage. Many connected cameras include voice assistant features, linking to Amazon’s Alexa or Google and providing answers to driving questions or local point of interest requests, adding voice commands for music and capturing video, or just acting as a hands-free kit for your phone.
Many cameras also include safety camera databases (including average cameras) and include mapping data of speed limits, alongside the ability to read and display the current limit from signs. They’ll usually give a subtle beep to warn you if you’re speeding.
What about professional drivers? What extra features can they have?
Taxi and private hire drivers may appreciate the peace of mind a dual-view camera offers, covering the interior of the car. This is also useful for families where you could, for example, prove that everyone including the dog was wearing a seatbelt, or that your passenger was using the smartphone that a traffic camera just fined you for.
Van and cargo drivers will like the night-vision security cameras offered by firms like Thinkware, where an infra-red, discrete camera can capture break-in attempts without alerting thieves to its presence before it’s had a chance to upload footage.
These cameras can also provide connected fleet management and communication.
That’s it, I’m buying a dashcam!
That’s an excellent decision – hopefully, you’ll never need to use the evidence, unless you’ve seen a particularly silly/unhinged bit of driving and want social-media fame – but if you do, you’ll be glad you had it. For the best results position it high, behind the mirror and out of your line of sight (unless you really want to use the screen) and remember to top up the SIM card if it has one.
If you do a lot of driving into the sun, get a model with a circular polariser, and don’t skimp on the memory card as reputable brands aren’t that expensive.
Finally – don’t forget to check if your insurance offers a discount for your model camera. Garmin and NextBase often have promotions, but check the partner companies are competitive for you overall before making a decision.