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Should you use a personal dash cam to protect yourself from car accident liability?

August 11, 2014 by Steven M. Gursten

Lawyers are now using dash cams in ways that just a few years ago would have been impossible to imagine

Blue Tiger personal dash cam

For years, police have been relying upon dash cams as a way to protect themselves from false allegations of wrongdoing on the road and during traffic stops. But what about for the rest of us? Are dash cams a good idea for ordinary people to use? And would civilians using dash cams to protect themselves by recording their own personal evidence in case of a car accident be helpful or potentially harmful?

Here’s an example of a personal dash cam for sale to consumers by Blue Tiger.

It’s description touts: “The internet is filled with reports of people that have saved thousands of dollars in court costs and avoided tickets on the spot by being able to use their dash cam as an irrefutable eye-witness in their favor.”

In Michigan, where I primarily practice law helping people hurt in motor vehicle accidents, there’s no set law on dash cams for civilians. One issue at play is whether the dash cam obstructs vision while driving.

The closest thing that applies is MCL 257.709(1)(c), which prohibits drivers  from driving with “[a]n object that obstructs the vision of the driver of the vehicle …”

In Russia, drivers often use dash cams to protect themselves from scam artists who fake accidents and then demand money or threaten legal action. The video below shows some outrageous examples of accidents and freak occurrences on the road in Russia:

Although the examples in the U.S. may not be as dramatic as in Russia, there are definite advantages to  having the camera rolling as you drive.

These advantages potentially include:

  • Help prove your innocence in a car accident.  The hardest type of crash to prove who is at fault is the “he said-she said” without independent eyewitnesses. And since the party bringing the lawsuit has the burden of proof, a tie usually goes to the defense as a defense verdict.  A dash cam eliminates this problem during the lawsuit process and when communicating with insurance companies.
  • Help catch other drivers running into your vehicle when parking, or when it’s parked.
  • Pick up footage you may not see with your own eyes on the road.
  • Help provide evidence if police “lose” their own squad car dash cam videos.

Incidentally, I’m recently back from Baltimore where I spoke at the American Association for Justice Motor Vehicle Litigation Group, and dash cams are proving important in another way that attorneys couldn’t even have imagined just a few years ago.  But many transit authorities and buses have multiple cameras and are capturing bad car accidents or sidewalk trip hazards so an attorney can prove reasonable notice.  These dash cams are opening up fascinating possibilities for attorneys.

Can police seize my personal dash cam footage?

There’s no easy answer to whether or not police can search and seize footage from your personal dash cam, as laws across the country vary. They may be able to if they have reason to believe the camera contains evidence of a crime or if you’re under arrest, according to the National Motorists Association article, “Dash Cams – A Double-Edged Sword:”

“Courts around the country have issued a patchwork of rulings regarding searching cell phones after arrest, some of which may apply to dash cam cases. (Fourth Amendment law regarding personal electronic devices continues to evolve rapidly…).”

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