Dash cams can supply video evidence in an accident: What you should look for

By: Marc Saltzman, Special to USA Today

They can supply crucial video evidence if you’re involved in a fender bender or serious collision. And capture clues you can take to the authorities if someone tries to mess with or steal your vehicle.

Once reserved for police vehicles, dashboard cameras — “dashcams” or “dash cams,” for short — are being installed by more and more civilian drivers.

These compact cameras record both video and audio from a first-person perspective (in a continuous loop). While many dash cams have a small LCD screen to ensure the camera is lined up properly, most users will pop out the memory card to view footage on a computer or television (or stream to an app over Wi-Fi).

Dashcams first became popular in countries where scams against drivers became commonplace: faking an injury, car damage claims or perhaps unscrupulous police checks. But the technology has caught on worldwide, as it’s a relatively inexpensive and easy-to-install tool for capturing photographic evidence of an incident.

The global dashcam industry grew just over 7 percent between 2014 and 2017, climbing from 18.9 billion dollars in sales to 23.2 billion, says “Market Reports World”. The category is expected to balloon to 31.7 billion by 2022.

“Dashcams give you definitive information in the event there’s a situation on the road, instead of being a ‘he said, she said’ scenario,” says Jay Pidlaoan, automotive technician for Best Buy’s Geek Squad in San Antonio, Texas.  If a police officer pulls you over, you can swivel  the camera to face the driver side window.

Of course, you might enjoy footage captured that has nothing to do with an accident or malicious incident. A family road trip through the mountains, say or  a recording of wildlife, a tornado, or comet.

Why it’s time to buy one

Price: Starting at just $50 for a decent dashboard camera with no monthly fees, the cost of admission isn’t too steep. Sure, higher-end models are still a couple of hundred dollars, but they could pay for itself in the event of a dispute (though dashcam evidence could implicate you, too, don’t forget). Memory cards are also dropping in price, and it’s not too costly to have a service such as Geek Squad hide the wiring for you. Because dashcams are relatively inexpensive, some people have one facing the rear of their vehicle, too.


Video quality: Many dashcams offer sharper 1080p “Full HD” quality, as opposed to 720p resolution. This added detail could come in handy when you need to zoom in on a frame to analyze, say, a license plate or person’s face. Some dashcams can even shoot 4K quality video, and some models include two cameras (one facing forward, one facing back). Still others have wide-angle, 180-degrees lenses to capture a wider field of view.And many offer night vision support. A good feature to look for is an embedded GPS chip, so the dashcam can “geo-stamp” the recording with a location and time.