Dash cams and the law: what you need to know
By Callum Tennent
Where do dash cams stand in the eyes of the law? What can you do with your footage, and when can you use it? We answer these questions and more.
As a relatively new gadget, there's still some uncertainty surrounding dash cams among UK motorists.
Dash cams are talked about in the newspapers, insurers mention them in their Ts and Cs, and they're even popping up in UK court cases. But where do dash cams really stand in the eyes of the law? Read on to find out all you need to know.
Already made up your mind to buy one? Jump straight to the best dash cams recommended by Which? experts.
Are dash cams legal?
A smart place to start, and an important question to ask. To be perfectly clear, yes, dash cams are legal on UK roads.
You don't need any special permissions to use them, nor do you need to notify anybody if you're fitting one in your car. Simply plug it in and you're free to go about your business as usual.
Can you use your dash cam when you drive abroad?
The issue is a little more complicated when it comes to driving abroad. If you plan to take your vehicle into mainland Europe you should check the laws of the country or countries you'll be driving in.
In some countries there are restrictions on dash cams and/or the video footage you record using one. This is usually due to privacy laws that restrict video or image capture of members of the public without their consent.
Find out more on how to hire a car abroad.
If your vehicle is not solely for personal use you must inform others
If you share your car as a part of a company scheme, for example, you must inform those you share it with of the dash cam's installation. This is because most record sound, while others even video record the inside of the vehicle - if someone else who has use of the vehicle is unaware they are being recorded that is a serious breach of privacy. It's up to you to let them know.
This goes doubly for those in the taxi industry. Cabbies, minicab drivers, coach drivers and the like who choose to use a dash cam must inform every passenger who enters their vehicle that a dash cam is in use, or face potentially harsh legal consequences.
Can dash cam footage be used in court?
Absolutely. Dash cams can provide valuable information in a court case that would otherwise have been left to testimony and conjecture.
In 2015 the UK courts saw the first jail sentence handed out off the back of incriminating dash cam footage. The dangerous driver wasn't caught red-handed by police, but instead was only arrested after police were shown dash cam footage from a concerned citizen.
Germany followed suit in 2016, when dash cam footage was the sole piece of evidence in the conviction of a driver who drove through a red light. German privacy laws differ to those in the UK, but the conviction was upheld even after being taken to a higher court on appeal. It's clear that dash cam footage is being taken more and more seriously as time passes.
You'll often see dash cam footage on local news websites as communities use it to work on tracking down law-breakers. Police have also begun using dash cam footage to aid in pleas for witnesses. In 2017 alone dash cam footage helped bring to justice a Humberside hit-and-runner, a Yorkshire dangerous driver, a West Yorkshire road rage assault, a Surrey roadside scam and a West Midlands carjacking - and these are just the cases that we know of.
Get more information about staying within the law - check out our guide explaining driving offences and penalty fines.
Incriminating footage is a two-way street
Most people's prime motive behind picking up a dash cam is to protect themselves legally should something untoward happen. However, you should also beware that the same footage can be used against you.
Should you be pulled over by the police for a motoring violation they can ask you to present your dash cam footage for review. For example a debate over just how far over the speed limit you were going can be quickly settled by footage from a dash cam with GPS tracking.
Similarly, if you take another motorist to court over an incident, there's nothing to say that the judge won't hold your own footage against you should you be in the wrong. Deleting your own footage could potentially be a serious offence, too, so don't tamper with it if police confront you.
National dash cam safety portal
In July 2018 dash cam manufacturer Nextbase, in collaboration with the regional constabularies of England and Wales, launched the national dash cam safety portal. It allows owners of any brand of dash cam to submit footage quickly and easily to the relevant authorities.
The website presents you with a map of England and Wales divided by county. If you click on the county where the incident you wish to report occurred it will redirect you to a dedicated report page for the region. It doesn't have to be anything as serious as a multi-vehicle pile-up or a hit and run - even dangerous driving or excessive speeding can be reported. It shouldn't take you any longer than 20 minutes.
Some local police forces haven't set up their bespoke submission pages yet. In these instances you will be redirected to a page on Nextbase's site that allows you to fill out all the details and log the footage ready to submit when the relevant constabulary has its page up and running.
A word of warning, though: by using this service you will be filling out an official police report, so you should treat it as such. There's also a very, very small chance that you'll be required to attend a court hearing should it be deemed necessary - but this is only in an extreme minority of cases. You won't have to surrender your dash cam or hard drive to the police, either, as all they need is a copy of the footage.
Visit the national dash cam safety portal to find out more or report an incident.
You may be breaking the law if you install your dash cam incorrectly
The one factor that may invalidate your dash cam use is the way in which it's fitted. It's extremely important that it could not be deemed to be obstructing your field of vision while driving. If police decide that it's positioned unsafely you could be in for a fine, and footage recorded on it could be rendered inadmissible in court.
To make sure you stay on the right side of the law be sure to read our guide to how to properly install a dash cam.