Accident videos: And the dashcam always holds on to it

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And the dashcam always keeps it up

In Russia they provide videos of traffic accidents and spectacular pictures of the last meteorite impact. Dashcams are also becoming fashionable in Germany. But amateur filmmakers have to be careful.

S.You never take your eyes off the road and see everything that is going on in front of the car. Since surveillance cameras for cars – so-called dashcams – recorded images of the meteorite impact in Chelyabinsk, Russia, in mid-February, which went around the world, the technology has also attracted the interest of motorists in Germany.

Dashcams are usually attached to the inside of the windshield with a suction cup and film the traffic in front of the car. The videos end up on a memory card and can be accessed on any computer with a card reader. A battery or a cable on the cigarette lighter supplies the camera with power.

In Russia they are widespread and produce unbelievable accident videos that provide information about the sometimes brutal customs on the streets of the gigantic empire. There are websites that are exclusively devoted to "dashcam accidents". Just recently one of these videos was uploaded to YouTube in which a bus turning off a side street is torn to pieces by an approaching truck. The bus driver was miraculously unharmed.

Devices from 40 euros

Depending on the version, dash cams cost between 40 euros for simple systems and 250 euros for high-end devices. Particularly well-equipped models have a second camera that keeps an eye on the interior of the car, a sound recording function and a GPS receiver with which every recorded event can be assigned to a geographical position.

Top devices also have an acceleration sensor that detects accidents: In this case, the dashcam saves the data permanently; when driving without a crash, the oldest video sequences are automatically deleted. This saves the user the hassle of emptying the memory card.

As an example, the magazine “Auto Bild” recently tested a camera in the medium price range for 149 euros. Conclusion: The system delivered perfect images in HD resolution day and night. The technology has been maturing for some time. Because car cameras have long been used in motorsport, where they serve to document the chase on the circuit and to track down driving errors or lost tenths of a second.

Not yet ready for court

Aside from the racetrack, there are other reasons for the installation: "Many drivers want to have evidence in hand when an accident occurs or they are victims of coercion," says ADAC lawyer Markus Schape. "However, uninvolved road users are also included in the recordings." The legality of the use of car cameras is therefore controversial, especially since there are still no court decisions.

"A video can serve as evidence if the court is of the opinion that manipulation is impossible," says Schape. For amateur filmmakers, the shot can also backfire if they are not so strict about the road traffic regulations: If an offense is initially suspected, the police may seize the recording device and evaluate the data to the detriment of the person concerned.

"The usability of such a video is currently at the discretion of the competent court," says Cathrin von der Heide from the Automobile Club of Germany (AvD). The club warns drivers not to legally rely solely on the recordings.

Data storage for cars has been around for a long time

Rainer Hillgartner, press spokesman at Auto Club Europa (ACE), is also skeptical about the new trend towards cameras in the windshield: "The videos could raise more need for analysis in court and give experts more work than they would be useful." Hillgartner hopes that the situation will be clearer at the traffic court day in Goslar at the beginning of 2014.

Electronic systems for reconstructing the course of accidents are basically not new. Data storage devices for motor vehicles have been around since the mid-1990s. These so-called black boxes record – similar to a flight recorder – relevant data and save it for a few minutes. These include longitudinal and lateral acceleration, brake actuation, seat belt buckle detent, as well as indicator and lighting activity. After a crash, experts can read and evaluate the information.

Approval of the works council

In 2012 the Bundestag voted for the mandatory installation of black boxes in new cars. In view of prices starting at 700 euros, the costs for the technology are out of proportion to the benefits, says Stephan Schweda, spokesman for the German Insurance Association (GDV). "Accident investigation is almost complete in Germany" – that makes an expensive monitoring system superfluous. Automobile clubs smell the "transparent motorist" and therefore reject a black box obligation.

Data memories are already commonplace in vehicle fleets, says Hanno Boblenz, editor-in-chief of the “Firmenauto” magazine. However, companies would have to point out the monitoring to the drivers, and the approval of the works council was also required. The employers’ liability insurance associations view cameras that are attached to the pane with suspicion, knows Boblenz – because of the restricted field of vision.

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