BIG BROTHER? Could investing in a relatively cheap dashboard camera be the answer for resolving the bulk of our motoring disputes?
BIG BROTHER? Could investing in a relatively cheap dashboard camera be the answer for resolving the bulk of our motoring disputes? Carly Morrissey

Dashcams - Are they worth investing in? Our tips and guide

MOTOR vehicle accidents are generally not a conversation starter or a topic that is cause for much laughter, but do yourself a favour and have a look at some of the YouTube videos of dash camera footage from Russia.

It makes for interesting viewing, those epic driving fails that thankfully haven't cost lives, but give pause for thought and quite a few belly laughs as well. Extraordinary happenings involving airborne cars, sliding trucks, botched carjackings, even a tank or two - just a normal day on Russian roads recorded on those nifty little miniature cameras.

It is Russia, in fact, that has really drawn attention to the usefulness of dashcams, the high incidence of lawlessness on their roads forcing almost 50% of drivers to attach the inexpensive devices to their windscreens. Their popularity has grown in the rest of Europe and the US too, with Australia's dashcam users doubling to 14% last year.

So what exactly are they and what is the appeal - apart from crazy videos that can bring more than seven million hits that is? Well, simply put, a dashcam is a smallish fairly innocuous looking camera that is mounted on your windscreen using a suction cup and can record the details of your journey - the road ahead as well as what is happening in the cabin itself.

Scene of a Toyota FJ Cruiser rollover crash in the median strip of the Bruce Highway that happened northbound between the Yandina and Eumundi turnoffs. Photo: Iain Curry / Sunshine Coast Daily
BINGLE: Dashcams can be used to determine who was at fault in a car accident. Iain Curry

They plug into the 12V power supply in the car and have an inbuilt battery to save footage if the power source is lost. Most often the video is recorded on a SD card on a continuous loop with the unit getting rid of the oldest material first when space becomes an issue. They range in price from $30 to more than $600 with the features dependent on the amount of money you hand over. The higher-spec units generally have an inbuilt GPS that matches your speed and location to your video, have better night video resolution, can be operated remotely from a smartphone or computer and have a parking mode to record just who is scraping your door as they exit the park.

Dashcams were first embraced by taxis, truck and bus drivers and businesses with large fleets. That reach has quickly extended to everyday drivers who use them as a sort of insurance protection to establish blame in an accident. Motor vehicle crashes can often turn into a he-said she-said exercise and because recall is subjective, dashcams are helpful in reducing the variability.

While installing a dashcam does not lower your insurance premiums, the footage is admissible in court and has been used successfully here and around the world to show which driver was at fault. It has also been used to prevent insurance fraud, where drivers deliberately cause an accident with the aim of extorting money (yes, that really happens).

They are now also commonly used to document parking incidents, record road rage crimes and reckless driving and are a boon to parents who want to monitor the driving habits of their teenagers. As a bonus, dashcams can record family road trips and they often accidentally capture scary and fabulous natural events - the Russian driver who recorded amazing footage of a meteor strike a case in point.

Despite their advantages, though, dashcams do not prevent accidents, alert responsible drivers do that.

Still it's nice to have an ace up your sleeve should you need it.

What to look for:

If you want to invest in a dashcam, start with a reasonably priced unit with these features:

Automatic loop recording

Seamless recording so you have no gaps between files

Heat resistance

Impact detection

Powered shutdown and file write so it can save footage when you lose power in an accident

Wide-angle lens for best coverage

Good resolution - at least 1080HD so you can make out number plates

Built-in display screen with removable memory card

Night vision