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You may have seen the videos captured on dashboard cameras: a vehicle stops short of a pedestrian, only for the person to throw themself on the hood with the flair of a professional soccer player. Or a driver who witnesses a harrowing near-miss collision from the seat of their car.
But car dashcams aren't meant only for capturing interesting moments. They're meant to provide evidence, too. A dashcam could document dangerous driving that helps you defend yourself in a lawsuit, or it could capture video of someone attempting to steal your car.
The lowdown on car dashcams
Car dashcams aren't as common in the U.S. as they are in some other countries — hence the flood of dashcam videos that come from narrow European roads. But U.S. drivers have few excuses not to at least consider installing one of these devices.
Adequate dashcams can cost anywhere from $60 to $150, and installation runs from simple to complicated, depending on the model you choose. Simple models are battery-powered or plug into your vehicle's cigarette lighter. With these models, you simply need to strap the camera to your dashboard or windshield.
Other models are hardwired into your car's battery system and require more technical skills to complete installation. The model you choose will depend on your personal preferences, but make sure your camera provides HD quality that can capture faces and license plate numbers in case of an accident.
Ideally, the cost of a dashcam would be offset by other incentives, such as cheaper insurance. But currently, no major insurance companies in the U.S. offer a premium discount for installing a dashcam in your car.
However, a Senate bill in committee would require New York insurers to provide a 5% discount to drivers whose vehicles have a dashcam. If the bill passes, it could set a precedent for other states to follow suit.
Despite the current lack of direct discounts from insurance companies, installing a dashcam could help you cut auto insurance costs in a few indirect ways.
Car dashcams reduce the fraud tax that's built into auto premiums
The benefits of dashcams begin with how they might reduce insurance fraud by capturing events that trigger claims. The Insurance Information Institute (III) estimates that each year, property and casualty insurance companies lose an average of $34 billion to fraud. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), auto insurance fraud makes up the largest portion of that loss.
Insurers in no-fault states such as Florida and New Jersey — where a majority of auto insurance fraud takes place — could save billions of dollars by supporting the proliferation of dashboard cameras.
In order to compensate for the losses incurred by fraud, insurance companies increase the average cost of insurance for all policyholders. This so-called fraud tax, which some estimate represents 10%–25% of the average driver's auto insurance premium, won't be lowered until auto insurance fraud is reduced in general. But drivers don't need to wait for regulations to facilitate its decline.
By installing dashcams in their vehicles, drivers can help expose staged accidents as they occur. Not only would this reduce the financial burden of fraud overall, but you also prove you weren't responsible for the individual accident. That can help you avoid a rate hike of as much as 33%.
A car dashcam can help you avoid wrongfully issued tickets
Despite the best intentions of law enforcement officials, wrongfully issued tickets do occur. For example, thousands of Illinois drivers were issued tickets in error between 2007 and 2014, according to an investigation run by the Chicago Tribune. The tickets were generated by robotic cameras that malfunctioned or were manipulated to cause a spike in citations that city officials could not explain.
If you're wrongfully issued a ticket — and you've installed a dashcam in your car — you may be able to prove your innocence. Not only would this save you from having to pay the fine associated with your ticket, it would also prevent the accumulation of points on your driving record, which can increase your auto insurance premiums.
Dashcams thwart vandalism and car break-ins
The most basic dashcams begin recording only when you turn them on. However, some come with a motion sensor that turns on the camera even when you're not in your vehicle. While they cost more, these devices can upload the video feed to your computer or mobile device, so you know if someone's trying to steal your car or take something from it. If your neighborhood or workplace has a high rate of vandalism or car break-ins, this type of camera could help you catch the offender or even deter them from committing the crime in the first place.
A day may come when insurance companies incentivize or require a dashcam in every vehicle. But there's no need to wait until then. There are many ways a car dashcam can protect you legally and help you save on insurance today.