Rachel looks the increasing use and benefits of dash cams and how they can play an important part in RTA claims.
The use of dash cams or similar equipment is not new: the first vehicle fitted with video-recording ability was in Formula One racing cars in the 1980s. It has been commonplace for several years for cyclists, motorcyclists and commercial vehicles to use video equipment in their journeys; it has often proved useful evidence in accidents. However, it has only been in the last decade that dash cam use in ordinary vehicles has started to be used. With the ever-increasing reliance on technology, it is no surprise that there has been a rise in dash cam use by motorists. Estimates of the increase in use vary wildly from 15% to 1000% – but all agree that use is on the rise and looks set to stay.
Perhaps encouraging the rise in dash cam use by motorists are the insurance companies. Many UK insurers now offer heavily discounted policies when their policyholders agree on having a camera fitted to their vehicle – a few even insist on it. In addition, several police forces, such as Avon & Somerset Constabulary, are also introducing new systems to make it easier for individuals involved in an accident to submit their video evidence directly to the police. North Wales Police even introduced Operation SNAP in August 2017, encouraging the online submission of video evidence, including dangerous driving and hit and runs, particularly involving vulnerable road users such as horse riders and pedestrians.
A dash cam, once fitted, will start filming as soon as the engine is started and continues to film until it is turned off again; many record sound as well as pictures. It can therefore show the driving pattern of the driver, whether they are generally driving safely or if they are being distracted by something. It can record the moments leading up to an accident, as well as the accident itself. In RTA claims where there are no other witnesses, a dash cam could well be the difference between a long, drawn-out dispute over liability and a quick admission, and it could be particularly useful in catastrophic accidents involving fatalities and brain injuries, including memory loss, where witness evidence is compromised. It may also be a useful tool in potentially fraudulent RTA claims where the defendant is claiming deliberate acts by the claimant caused the accident.
In an accident where police attend, any video footage obtained by the vehicles directly involved will automatically be seized as evidence; the position is less clear in the case of video evidence from a car that has witnessed – but not been directly involved in – the accident. If video evidence from a witness’ vehicle is not volunteered, it is unlikely police powers to seize evidence will extend to this, although the seriousness of the accident and available evidence will be important factors, particularly if the police can argue the witness’ car, and therefore the video footage, is part of the accident scene.
There has been criticism of the increased use in dash cams and the two main concerns raised are increased civilian policing and breach of privacy concerns.
There are also concerns that increased dash cam availability will encourage individuals who have them to take the law into their own hands by going out of their way to record footage of drivers they consider to be driving poorly and reporting them to the police. This, in turn, has brought concerns that increased video surveillance on the roads may lead to a decrease in traffic police, although there is little evidence to substantiate this.
The breach of privacy argument may have more substance: there are several European countries that have legislated against the use of technology such as dash cams or place stringent restrictions on their use in public places. Conversely, it is proving very popular in countries such as Russia, where there are concerns regarding the independence of investigating officers. Motorists with a dash cam fitted looking to take their vehicle abroad should therefore carefully consider the individual country’s rules on the matter or they may find themselves falling foul of data protection or privacy laws. However, in the UK, the only restriction put on their use is the requirement to inform a passenger of the recording equipment if your vehicle is not used solely for personal use, e.g. if you are a taxi driver.
Currently, dash cam footage in the UK courts is accepted as valid evidence and has been cited in several cases as important evidence on a finding of liability. In the recent case of R. v Neher (Sumaiya) Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) , dash cam footage from a witness’ vehicle confirmed the defendant’s liability by showing that the defendant had driven through a red light, colliding with a motorcyclist. A recent case in the Scottish courts, Daly v Heeps Sheriff Court (Lothian and Borders) (Edinburgh),  went even further, when not only was the dash cam footage used in evidence but it was also provided to experts who used it in their report to establish liability against the defendant.
While dash cam use in many parts of Europe is currently restricted, it seems its popularity in the UK will continue to grow and play an important part in RTA claims.