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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.

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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 I use my dash cam when I 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 that same footage can be used against you.

Should you be pulled over by the police for a motoring violation they can ask for 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.

North Wales Police and Operation SNAP

After a huge increase in the amount of dash cam footage being submitted as evidence, in August 2017 North Wales Police (NWP) announced Operation SNAP.

It serves as a streamlined process for the public to put forward video evidence captured by either dash cams, helmet cams or body cams. The aim is to help vulnerable road users (like cyclists or horseback riders) or those in a car pursue prosecution where appropriate should their filmed footage prove another driver guilty of a dangerous offence.

If you believe you can provide video evidence to help bring justice to the roads of North Wales then click here to visit the NWP's online submission form.

If Operation SNAP sees significant results then who knows - perhaps the scheme could work its way to your police district.

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 look at our guide to how to properly install a dash cam.

Why Which? dash cam reviews are better

We rigorously test the latest dash cams to bring you our independent and impartial dash cam reviews and recommendations.

During our dash cam tests, we take every dash cam out on the road to see how it performs. We drive a demanding route that includes minor and major roads, plenty of junctions and a variety of traffic hazards. 

We then assess the footage quality, including how clear and bright it is, and whether important details, such as number plates and street signs, can be read easily.

As well as checking the quality of the footage, we assess how easy each model is to use. We install each dash cam in a car, checking how useful the instruction manual is, how easy the device is to set up and how easy it is to use once it's installed. 

We also look at how easy it is to remove the device from the mount, as well as removing the mount itself. The accuracy of any additional features, such as GPS tracking or G-force sensors, is put to the test, too.

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