Every car should have a dashcam

Every car should have a dashcam

In 2007, i recorded my daily drive to college and back. Unfortunately, i uploaded those clips to Google Video and forgot all about them so i can’t easily reference them. However, since then i’ve always wished i had a camera recording the road in front of me so i could capture those moments of madness on the road…

For every accident, there’s 1000 near misses.

It may not be a law, but i’d imagine i’m not too far out by saying that for every accident (i.e. car -v- car contact), there’s about 1000 ‘near’ accidents. I’ve been driving for 7 years now and have come close to crashing in to another car probably 2 /3 times. Close as in “oh shit, i’m not sure if brakes or steering will help me avoid a collision here”. I’ve also found myself in dozens of situations where i could easily have gotten in to an accident had i wanted to… in fact a couple of years ago i recorded one of these incidents on a small key ring camera i was testing… i was driving straight, car was merging and failed to yield… had i wanted to be hit and place the blame on the other driver, this was a great opportunity. I seen it coming though based on the speed at which the car turned and the lack of deceleration, so i don’t regard this as a near miss as i feel i was in complete control…. but i could have seized an ‘opportunity’ if i was that way inclined.

Anyway, in all of my near misses, were i to have collided, i wouldn’t have considered myself to be at fault. But sometimes the wrong people get punished on the roads… it’s very difficult to figure out the guilty party when there’s no evidence, no witnesses and the collision isn’t serious enough to warrant an investigation and forensic analysis. This is where a dashcam comes in.

It won’t stand up in a court of law, but provided you’re confident enough in your driving to capture every single second your car moves, then if and when you do have an accident there’ll be video evidence to figure out exactly who caused the accident, whether it could have been avoided and perhaps most importantly, peace of mind that if something goes wrong, the dashcam has your back.

Install and forget technology

I wanted a dashcam that did the following:

  • Charged via cigarette lighter but was able to function on it’s own battery (like a satnav)
  • Automatically switched on and started recording when ignition was switched on
  • Automatically stopped recording and switched off when ignition was switched off
  • HD quality
  • No crappy software or weird video formats
  • As small and as hidden as possible

To my surprise, dashcams have come way down in price over the past few years. You can get one that ticks all the above for about €25 although i’d be skeptical as to the quality and longevity of them. The cheapest dashcams tend to be generic, ‘made in china’ cameras and look like it too (bulky and a lot of plastic on show). I ended up going for the Prestigio Road Runner HD1 for £44 on amazon (although i see it’s currently £50). No doubt it’s made in China too, but Prestigio make lots of cameras and do a decent job at highlighting features on their own site, so that’s what swung it for me.

The Road Runner HD1 is a fairly small, easy to use piece of kit but it won’t win any awards. Quality of HD footage is good to average and everything else works, but it won’t make you smile. Adjusting settings using the buttons and monitoring the flip out screen is a painfully slow and awkward process but the good news is that once you’ve got it all set up to your tastes, you can just leave it sitting there and forget about it. It’ll do it’s thing while you do yours.

By default it records in 2 minute segments, but i’ve set mine to record in the maximum 15 min segments. So rather than end up with 30 files per hour of driving, i’ll end up with 2. I think that was the only thing i needed to adjust other than the time / date.

Here’s a montage of some test footage i put together…

Slight Problem

I had one slight problem with set up… the camera was focusing on the windscreen and not the road, so the road became blurry. I wasn’t sure if that was because my windscreen was too dirty / greasy or the camera was naturally just out of focus… a few indoor tests revealed the focus appeared to be ok, it was just my windscreen that was the problem…

A car wash later, i though the problem had been solved, but no… it was still picking up patches on the windscreen and blurring the road ahead. So i spent half an hour scrubbing the windscreen, using water, vinegar and newspaper to try and rid it of all grease / dirt. I also replaced the wipers and bought some toxic looking washer fluid additive in an attempt to get the cleanest windscreen possible.

The camera suction cup / mount isn’t as close to the windscreen as i would like so that also didn’t help with the problem… the lens is a good 2/3 inches from the screen whereas ideally you want it touching the glass so it doesn’t have a chance to focus on dirt. If i were to place it at the bottom of the windscreen, that would probably work better but then you’d end up with a camera and suction cup in full view of passers by.

In it’s current location at the top of the windscreen, you’d simply think the suction cup was the rear view mirror… you don’t notice the camera. Stealth is important with this in-car gadgetry.  Unless it’s integrated, that means it’s easy to get at with a quick brick through a side window.

Anyway, after the car wash, windscreen wash, new wipers and washer additive, the camera is still slightly out of focus or not as sharp as i’d like it to be. But it does the job as you can see from the test footage. I’ll continue to play around with it and see if i can find a better spot for it on my windscreen but in reality the ‘problem’ is that it’s a cheap camera and therefore you’re never going to get iPhone-like video quality which is ideally you’d like.

I have a dream

I believe that all cars should have a blackbox that tracks all activity before, during and after a collision. All of that data should be made public from all cars involved in fatal collisions so the public can learn how and why certain things happened.

Saying ‘x’ number of people died on our roads in a year means nothing. You gotta put it in to context… how many vehicles are on the road? how many people have licences? how many daylight hours were there in that year? how many penalty points? ideally you want to how many ‘trips’ took place, average distance per trip, what times did the collisions occur at, on what roads,  what temperature was it, what was the road position of the vehicles in the seconds leading up to impact etc…

There’s a big difference between someone stealing a car and crashing it, resulting in a fatality -v- someone who fell asleep at the wheel which resulted in a fatality. Being completely selfish about it, i can say to myself “i wouldn’t steal a car and i wouldn’t drive while sleepy”… so i don’t have to worry. The accidents weren’t caused by poor road conditions or lack of visibility or some mechanical fault etc… Telling me 2 people died on the roads in ‘tragic’ accidents doesn’t register at all (unless i know the people). It’s tragic for those people and their families. Not tragic for me. I’ll forget about the news 2 minutes after i hear it.

If i’m ever involved in a fatal collision from drink driving or joyriding, i don’t want newspaper headlines reading “tragedy on our roads, young man dies in single vehicle collision”, i want them reading “man dies on roads having been ‘x’ times over the drink drive limit and taking a right angled corner at 100km/hr.” Publishing the exact cause of death in all accidents is more important than protecting that individual’s reputation. Publish it a year after the incident if need be to protect families, but just don’t bury it… if all cars had a blackbox which captured speed, outside temperature, inside temperature, tyre pressures, pressure placed on pedals, hand position on steering wheel, stereo volume etc… think about how much we could actually learn about driving and the fascinating data available.

Insurance fraud would be nil, people would drive with more patience and consideration and they’d also feel safer, provided of course the data gathered is kept private by default until such time as a collision occurs in which case, you surrender your right to privacy and have to let the stats fight your corner and clear your name.

Check out more crazy stuff captured on dashcams by visiting DashcamIncidents.com

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