Dashboard cameras: What are they? How do they work? Are they useful? Should I buy one?

Posted on March 17th, 2014 by GEM Motoring Assist

IF YOU’RE ever unlucky enough to be involved in a collision on the road, a reliable and independent witness is invaluable. But different people remember the same incident differently, and anyone involved in an incident on the road has a vested interest in their own side of the story. Even worse, if you’re unlucky to be caught up in a whiplash scam, in which criminals set up collisions in order to claim compensation, the witnesses won’t just be unreliable – they’ll be downright dishonest.

However, a video camera can’t take sides. Its memory won’t alter the facts to suit a theory, and it won’t become less reliable as time passes. No wonder more and more drivers are using small video cameras, known as ‘dash-cams’, to record their journeys. If something goes wrong, you have an unbiased and independent record of what occurred.

These cameras are legal, provided they don’t obscure your vision to an extent which contradicts the Road Traffic Act. In fact, the use of such video cameras is being championed by the police.

Earlier this year, Paul Marshall from the Association of Chief Police Officers told The Times: “Increasing use is being made by the public of digital cameras to record evidence of offences which can be used by the police service to support prosecutions.”

So, what should you look for in a dash-cam? There are several features to consider. It should be small enough to be mounted unobtrusively. We would recommend mounting it in front of the rear-view mirror, which gives a good view of the road ahead without any significant impact on your forward vision.

We think loop recording is essential. This feature means that when the camera’s memory is full, the camera simply overwrites the earliest footage rather than ceasing to record. Similarly, a camera which starts automatically whenever you switch on the ignition means there’s no danger you’ll ever forget to turn it on.

Most crucial of all is the resolution of the recording. Look for a camera that records in high definition (at least 1280×720). Some of the cheaper cameras on the market have lower definition levels but there’s little point in filming an incident if the number plates can’t be read. Look for sample videos online to assess quality and read user reviews before choosing your device. Expect to spend £70 or more on a good dash-cam – a small price to pay for peace of mind.

GEM advice:

If you install a dash-cam, keep it for personal use. Don’t take on the role of volunteer traffic police officer.

MiVue 388 angled reflection (2)We tried out the £175 Mio MiVue388

The unit worked well in both day and night conditions; the 8-gigabyte data card allows around 80 minutes of recording. We found this sufficient, but the experience of others suggests 32gb might allow better results. There is a speed camera warning built into the system, something GEM has never approved of.  Any video recorder needs to provide a really good, clear, sharp picture and the MiVue did just this.  The power lead was long enough to go all the way around the windscreen and under the dashboard.  In conclusion, we think the 388 is a nifty bit of kit, but it would be better if it also had a satnav.  We don’t rate the instructions booklet and we’d prefer the suction fitting to be smaller and more discreet.