Personal dashcams growing in use, offer second set of eyes

Dashcams can concretely prove fault in a crash
Personal dashcams growing in use, offer second set of eyes

Up until a few years ago, Gale Holloway didn’t think much of having a dashboard camera in his car.

“I knew there was such a thing, but I never paid much attention to it,” Holloway said.

But Holloway, from Windsor, got his own dashcam two to three years ago after being enthralled by YouTube videos posted by Russian drivers capturing images of meteors streaking across the sky as they were driving along.

Russia, in fact, is where many credit the dashcam trend beginning. Dashcams have become ubiquitous in that country due to high levels of insurance fraud and traffic police corruption.

He didn’t get much use out of it until this June. That’s when a drive along North Towne Road in DeForest quickly turned unexpected. Another driver failed to yield at an intersection, crashing into Holloway and totalling his Hyundai.

Luckily for Holloway, his dashcam was rolling the whole time. He said once he offered police the video, it immediately helped officers determine who was at fault.

“After they looked at the video, they immediately said the other driver was 100 percent at fault,” Holloway said. “It makes it pretty obvious what happened.”

DeForest police later posted Holloway’s video on their Facebook page.

Holloway is just one of many Americans who’ve joined a growing trend of purchasing and installing their own personal dashcams. According to Consumer Reports, sales of personal dashcams were expected to rise by 15 percent in 2017.

No longer just for police officers, dashboard cameras have gotten cheaper and smaller, Jon Ninneman, specialty store manager at the Madison west side Best Buy location, said.

Brick-and-mortar stores like Best Buy have expanded their selection of dashcams to keep up with the growing demand, he said.

“Not until recently, semi-recently, we’ve seen them catch ground a lot more,” Ninneman said.

Online retailers like Amazon also offer a wide variety of dashcams.

Ninneman said with the surge in popularity, well-known brands have entered the personal dashboard camera market. Garmin, which is known for its GPS units, and Cobra, known for its radar detectors, now make dashcams.

High-end models now incorporate added features.

“Some are going to come with packages where it’s a front and rear camera,” Ninneman said. “Some are going to have Wi-Fi connectivity to it, so you can view photos and videos from your phone right away.”

Ninneman said some customers are purchasing dashcams to document a road trip by creating a timelapse video, for example. But most people have been buying them to protect themselves in case of a crash.

“More people have been using them for insurance, more people have been using them for safety,” Ninneman said.

Dashcam videos can help resolve claims quicker and help users prove they weren’t at fault in a crash, Tony Arneson, vice president of Madison-based Neckerman Insurance Agency, said.

“I could see an adjuster saying, ‘Let me send you my video,’ and the decision would be made,” Arneson said.

But Arneson said just as much the presence of a dashcam can prove a driver wasn’t at fault, they can hurt a driver’s case.

“The evidence from a dashcam could obviously go against them as well as in their favor,” he said.

Arneson said that’s one reason why insurance companies in the United States aren’t actively considering implementing discounts for drivers who use dashcams, unlike across the pond, where many British insurance companies are offering drivers discounts of 10 to 20 percent for using them.

Arneson said higher levels of insurance fraud in the United Kingdom make it worth the insurance companies’ while.

Here in Wisconsin, it’s also important to note that the way you use a dashcam might be illegal.

Many dashcams are designed to be mounted to windshields. Technically, it’s against the law in Wisconsin (and many other states) to mount anything to a windshield–dashcam, GPS, or otherwise.

Police said, however, there’s a way to use a personal dashcam without running afoul of the law.

“Opting for a dashboard mount would be the best option,” Madison police Officer Howard Payne said. “Our concern is your ability to be able to see out of your windshield with your vision not being obstructed in any way.”

Some dashcams are made to be mounted on your dash and other companies make universal dashboard mounts designed to be used with suction cups that may normally go on a windshield.

Holloway said while he wouldn’t recommend a dashcam to people who are easily distracted by a GPS, for example, he said it’s not a problem for him.

“You never think of it,” Holloway said.

When it counted the most, Holloway said, having a second set of eyes proved invaluable.

“It’s nice to have,” he said. “Can’t argue with it.”

The cheapest, off-brand dashcams can run as low as $15. Higher-end, brand-name dashcams can run more than $200.

Consumer Reports has tips on what to look for in a dashboard camera and a list of states where windshield mounts are illegal.