We’ve already discussed the fact that it is legal to film police in California and even covered an incident where a police officer’s dashboard camera and bystander cellphone video recordings were used to charge the officer with murder. But can citizens legally install dash cams in their car? They can, but the matter isn’t quite black and white.
California Dash Cam Laws
Legally speaking, using a dash camera isn’t as simple as just pointing and shooting your cell phone to record something. A dash cam must be installed in a legally accepted area of your windshield, which means it must be placed in a seven inch square area on either lower corner of your windshield or in a five inch square area in the upper center of your windshield. The dash cam also must be out of the way of any of your vehicle’s air bags. This means the center of the dashboard configuration you often see in photos of dash cams is not legal in California.
Additionally, because California requires these devices to be capable of recording audio, you must notify all passengers that their conversations may be recorded and if they do not consent, you must turn off the audio on the device.
Potential Benefits of Dash Cams
Dashboard cameras obviously record footage of the road in front of you, but they can also record audio inside the car, footage inside the car and data about the vehicle operator’s speed, direction, braking, steering and seat belt usage. These recordings can be particularly useful after an accident or an interaction with the police.
The recording could provide proof that an officer acted inappropriately, violated your rights or forgot basic police procedures, all of which could mean your criminal lawyer may be able to get the charges against you dropped. Even if the video and audio footage reveals nothing questionable about the officer’s behavior, if your device recorded how you were driving, it might be enough to prove that you were illegally stopped if the officer claimed you were driving erratically and your dash cam proved you were not.
Similarly, the footage could provide useful if you were accused of auto insurance fraud, if it proves that the accident was not purposefully caused.
Potential Drawbacks of Using a Dash Cam
Of course, the same way your dashboard camera could provide your defense attorney with proof that you were not guilty of a crime, it could also be seized and used against you as evidence if you committed one. If your dashboard camera recorded you and your passenger talking about causing an accident, for example, you could easily be charged with car insurance fraud. Similarly, if it recorded you hitting a pedestrian or other vehicle and then fleeing the scene, it could be used as evidence that you were involved in a hit and run accident.
Finally, if your GPS recorded you at a bar and your camera recorded you swerving while driving and even failing to turn on your headlights, the two devices could both be used to prove you were driving under the influence.
Creative Commons Image by Paul Townsend