Documenting Drives: Why I Use a Dash Cam

A lot of weird things happen out there on the road and there also is some great scenery.

So I’m now making a record of it all with a dashboard camera (dash cam).

A dash cam was the very first accessory I bought and installed in our new Roadtrek CS Adventurous XL and now that I’ve been on the road for about a week, I can say there’s not a mile of the route that we took from Michigan to the Emerald Coast of Florida’s Panhandle that I haven’t videotaped. Not many of those images will make a report, other than the still I captured to illustrate the quality of the imaging.

But when we hit the mountains, or later this week when we cruise the Emerald Isles National Seashore here in Florida, I’ll be using it to document the great beauty of the drive.

My Windsheld Witness dash cam captures a 145 degree  wide angle view

My Windsheld Witness dash cam captures a 145-degree wide angle view. It also swivels around so I can video towards the back.

Dash cams have been hugely popular in Europe, and especially Russia, for several years now.

I’m predicting that 2015 is going to see them really take off in the U.S., especially among RVers.

Use of a dash cam revolves on a simple concept: Documentation of your drive, be it across the United States or to the corner convenience store.

You need to decide if it’s for you, but in general, there are three basic reasons for adding a dash cam:

Protection: Accidents are often become a blame game with one driver’s word against another’s. Dash cams offer proof of what happened.

Documentation of a trip: When traveling great distances, there are just too many beautiful places and things to stop and photograph, especially if you’re sticking to a plan like my 330 rule and intend to actually make it to a specific destination. A dash cam provides for a thorough recounting of your journey.

Capturing the unexpected: Entire websites are dedicated to this use of dash cams. The reason

Looking through the windsheld. The camera captures 1080p at 30fps

Looking through the windshield. The camera captures 1080p at 30fps. It attaches to the inside of the windshield with a suction cup that can be easily removed.

is simple – so many things happen so fast for even the most skilled camera quick-draws. Take the Chelyabinsk meteor that was caught flying over Russia last February. Because so many dash cams are used in Russia, plenty of documentation of the event exists. Now, you may not be likely to catch such a visual and impressive event, but then again, maybe you will.

Reports indicate Russia, in fact, has lead the way with dash cam use because of the weight the legal system puts on the video evidence, especially when it comes to auto insurance fraud, a particularly problematic issue in the region. As use has proliferated around the world (though it’s hard to get a fix on exactly how many vehicles are equipped with dash cams) through growth of social media sites like YouTube, prices have dropped and the number of dash cam models continues to rise.

There are four basic features I urge you to insist on in choosing for a dash cam. Make sure…

  1. It mounts to the dash/windshield to video capture what happens in front of the car
  2. It records automatically when driving
  3. It powers on/off with vehicle
  4. It recycles media (i.e. deletes the boring stuff and, when the little SD memory card fills up, it starts recording over the oldest clip) automatically.

There are some extra features, though, that you should look for when considering a dash cam purchase, including:

  • Integrated GPS: Embeds location and speed data into video
  • Night vision or very sensitive lens
  • Widest possible lens
  • Parking mode: Instantly turns dash cam on should your vehicle be hit by another while parked with no one in it
  • G-sensor: Any worthwhile dash cam will use an SD card that stores new video and deletes the old after a certain period of time. This sensor will earmark any video connected with detection of an impact.

One tip to consider when looking at adding a dash cam: Check state and local laws as they relate to dash cam use, mounting  and recordings.

Prices online run the gamut – from cheap, no-brand dash cams that cost about $10 to more elaborate versions that run into the hundreds of dollars. Many of the cheapest seem to look almost exactly the same as the more expensive versions. Further complicating matters is the fact that there isn’t a dash cam industry-leading company. There isn’t a GoPro for vehicles, in other words. That makes it that much more important to know how you are going to use your dash cam so you can know what features to look for and how much to spend.

The best place to search and find one is Amazon. Here’s a whole page of dash cams.

 

The one I bought was from a company called Windsheld Witness. I bought mine for around $200 and chose a 32 GB memory card, good for about 11 hours of recording. The one I got was one of their last units. Their website says they are now sold out and temporarily not taking new orders. I bought because of a friend’s suggestion. A big feature for me in choosing the one I got is that it has a flip down video screen that can show me what the camera is seeing. The mount also can swivel the camera around, to capture video of the inside of my RV. And it also picks up and records audio.

A word about the memory card. Make sure it is a Class 10. Any other class of card may not be able to adequately capture HD video. I can pull out the card and transfer the video directly to my computer for editing. For you geeks it is H.264/MPEG4 video. It draws power from a cigarette plug.

I’m enjoying it a lot so far. I only wish I had one last summer, when a big grizzly walked right in front of our vehicle in Wyoming. Or I wish I was running one when we drove the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park in Montana.

But I have one now and I’m sure you’ll be seeing images captured with it as we continue Roadtreking across North America.

 




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  • jbenson2

    Just be careful if you are a resident of California or Minnesota. http://blogs.findlaw.com/blotter/2011/10/gps-windshield-mounts-legal-in-your-state.html

  • Shirley Joiner

    Mike, does your dash cam have a built-in battery so it can turn on during an impact while you are parked? Our cigarette lighter outlet does not have power when the ignition is turned off.

    • Hello Shirley Joiner, the camera system has state of the art, twin Supercapacitors (Each 2.7v, 5.5F) and collectively store power to deliver the required energy necessary to finalize writing of the current video file (when necessary), upon power cut off or when sudden impact disconnects the vehicle’s battery completely. These Supercapacitors also maintain current date and time for extended periods, alleviating the need for an internal battery that would typically be useless in two years time. In other words, if you purchase a dash cam with an internal battery, plan on the that battery not working after two years time.

  • RonBoyd

    For a good BLOG on Dash Cameras start here: https://dashcamtalk.com/

  • Shannon Carter

    I have used my GoPro Hero 3 as a dashcam. It has a looping feature, records audio and video and is small enough not to be a distraction for me.

  • Badger_John

    Shannon: The one thing that the GoPro doesn’t have is the G-Force sensor which will preserve the images leading up to an accident and immediately following an accident. Accident images will not be overwritten even if the camera is left powered on.

    Since all of “us” are driving carefully a video image of the accident will prove what we the innocent driver actually saw when the other guy hit us. As a firefighter who responds to many accidents, the police investigators have to try to assume what happened in an accident because typically the witness statements don’t necessarily match. A video would help prove what actually happened.

    • Hello Badger_John,
      Thank you for your chosen profession of being a firefighter. You’ve raised an extremely important concern. Drivers seeking to better protect themselves from fraudulent accident claims indeed should have a camera system that employs a G-Sensor feature. Many drivers have felt, in the past, that merely having a camera on and recording is sufficient. Such is not the case, as you well pointed out. Files can and will be overwritten and oft times not saved at all (finalized and saved), without a working G-Sensor feature. Our system employs G-Sensor and the sensitivity level is adjustable.