By Ben Ellard
Special to Land Line
Dash cams, short for dashboard cameras, have become big business. Brands and models have proliferated at truck stops, electronic stores, and online.
Dash cams can provide a record of whatever happens in front of your truck. Potentially, they can protect you from false accusations or erroneous conclusions about an accident.
Think of them as defensive weapons in the highway fault-finding wars. “The guy with the dash cam always wins,” said former trucker Bill Gremminger, now in the dash cam business.
They have also become a source of entertainment, though often of a horrific kind. Dash cam videos depict everything from laughable street encounters to fatal, high-speed crashes, often strung together in compilations that rack up millions of views on YouTube.
Here we’re talking specifically about small, individual cameras – DVRs (digital video recorders) – that mount on a dashboard or windshield and record everything that goes on in front of a vehicle. Some, called dual dash cams, also look backward and record what’s happening in the cab.
Some dash cams come with small monitor screens that allow you to immediately review an event, but most require a computer for this. Some are small and unobtrusive; some are bulkier and can easily be seen on the windshield from outside the truck. Typically, they sell for between $50 and $250. You can always pay more, of course.
You can also buy more elaborate safety and security systems with multiple cams giving real-time views alongside and behind your truck as well as straight ahead. Those systems, with two to four cameras, offer more protection than single dash cams. They can go for under $200 for a barebones outfit up to thousands of dollars for sophisticated monitoring and recording around the truck.
But if you don’t have a dash cam, a single cam is a good place to start. Bill Gremminger, a team driver for 11 years with his wife, Kim, said he once hit a bale of straw that was tumbling across the interstate from a construction site in a heavy wind. The truck suffered some damage, and the company assumed Gremminger had deliberately plowed into a bale of straw. A dash cam showed what actually happened.
Today, Gremminger sells the SmartCam HD 2, a windshield-mounted camera that offers a playback screen and a number of options for recording and playback. SmartCam sells on Gremminger’s site, dashcamusa.com, for around $150. It can also be found at truck stops in Missouri, New Mexico, and Arizona; Gremminger says more truck stops are coming aboard all the time.
SmartCam is manufactured in China. Indeed, virtually all dash cams are made in either China, Taiwan or South Korea. The number of manufacturers and models have proliferated in the last couple of years. The names, familiar and otherwise, now on the market include Canon, SainSpeed, Eagle, Rando, CarProCam, Komando, Cowon, Veho, Yiking, Smarty, AGPtek, and CarCam. Choosing one can be a real challenge.
That’s the reason someone who calls himself DashCamMan launched the web site dashcamtalk.com. DCM would not reveal his real name, but said he lives in Toronto where he says staged accidents and insurance scams are frequent. DCM launched the site after his own dash cam shopping experience “to share what I learned from all this research ... that could help others,” he wrote.
DashCamTalk.com provides product comparisons and a forum where dash cam users can share their experiences and opinions. It also offers a buyer’s guide that goes into technical detail down to the computer chip at the heart of any individual dash cam.
In more general terms, DCM’s buyer’s guide says that video quality should be a buyer’s first concern. “Watch night videos rather than day videos,” DCM recommends. “Most HD cameras, even the cheaper ones, perform well in the day. To see how well a dash cam really performs, you need to see how it performs in poor lighting conditions.
“Watch videos from real users, not from the manufacturer,” DCM continues, and watch them “in full screen at the highest resolution.”
Videos posted by manufacturers should be easy to find on the web – videos from users less so. In any case, while DashCamTalk.com offers some good advice and information, be wary – as you should be with any information from a source that insists on anonymity.
You should also remember that most dash cams are made for cars. In fact, some are built into assemblies that replace a rear view mirror, obviously of no use in a truck cab beyond eyebrow plucking.
One consideration not covered by Mr. DashCamMan is the format of your dash cam video. We learned from an attorney who frequently represents truckers that dash cam evidence should be in a standard format like .avi so the video computer file can easily be emailed and viewed by a prosecutor or attorney, for example.
One more heads up for truckers: Even if there is a cam system in the company truck you drive, you should probably have a dash cam of your own as well. Whatever that company device records belongs to the company, and you can’t be certain that their interests and yours will be the same in a lawsuit.
When you have your own cam, you’re protected with your own video defense. LL