In-Car Cameras – Do You Need One?

This is a copy of the article I wrote for the June/July issue of ‘The Instructor’. You can read the full ezine here

It wasn’t that long ago that in-car camera systems consisted of bulky VCR recorders stashed under the seat, awkward to place cameras and metres of wire. However, as technology has improved, cameras have become smaller and more accessible to the general public. Because of this, more and more ADIs are now using cameras during their driving lessons.

Whatever your experience with in-car cameras, hopefully this article will give you a few ideas of what will work best for you.

Possible Uses And Reasons For Getting One

The thing that first put the idea in my head was a close encounter while giving way to a bus on a narrow road. The driver misjudged the gap and the result was the bus grazing the side of my car. The bus driver didn’t stop, and it took a fair bit of correspondence for the company to agree to fix the car. Afterwards, I thought if I had a video of the incident, it would have been sorted a lot quicker.

Accident backup was my initial reason for looking into a camera, but others may include:

  • Reviewing your own driving – Especially useful if you’re taking the IAM or RoSPA tests. Most cameras also record audio so you can listen to your commentary driving and see how it can be improved.
  • During driving lessons – How many times have you had a pupil put the car in a risky position that they were completely unaware of? Recording the lesson can provide an instant review of what happened.
  • Self-assessment – You can also watch the video back, and listen to the way you are conducting the lesson. I’ve used this in the past to work out different ways of dealing with pupils who struggled to deal with a particular aspect of driving.

So Many Choices, Where To Start?

Ok, so you’ve made the decision to get a camera, now for the tricky bit of choosing one. Smartcam, Roadhawk, Novus and BlackVue are just a small selection of some of the companies out there, so do your research. My advice, is don’t get carried away! There are so many on the market ranging from £20 to £300+ so consider what you are actually going to use it for. Do you really need GPS speed and positioning? How about g-force sensors?

If we look at the cheapest cameras first…

For £20, you could go onto eBay and get a basic in-car camera. You would want one that comes with a suction mount for the windscreen and a cable that allows it to be run from your 12V socket. Thankfully, this is fairly standard. If you’re not sure, these cheap and cheerful systems are a good place to start. Then, if you like the way it works, you can also upgrade at a later date. As the price goes up from here, you’ll find the resolution of the camera and the build quality improves.

Now onto the more advanced ones…

Once you get near the £100 mark, the first thing that gets added is a GPS receiver. This can be used to overlay the speed onto the video, and also used to track the car’s position during the video. You can also get g-force sensors that are used to recognise ‘events’. This could be heavy braking or an actual collision and when this happens the camera will automatically record a brief period before and after and also prevent it from being overwritten.

Something to be aware of is that once you add GPS to a camera, you will normally need a particular piece of software to view the videos, and overlay the position and speed onto a map. The advantage of some of the cheaper units is that they come with an in-built screen (like a digital camera) for instant playback and the file type can be viewed on any computer with no special software.

You may also want an interior camera to show the pupil how to improve their steering technique or observations. This could be perfect for Instructor Trainers. However, not everyone will be comfortable with this, so be aware of this. When I first started using an interior camera I had 4 people who asked me to turn it off as they were a bit self-conscience being recorded.

Data Protection & Driving Tests

 This is where there are a few grey areas (hence the following disclaimer). What I’ve written below is purely my own opinion and experience.

If you are recording sound or video inside the car, you should technically register with the ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office) as you are storing the files (if only for a short period before they are overwritten). You should also get consent from anyone in the car. One way around this is to give each pupil their own SD card that they bring to the lesson (probably not the most practical).

With the camera I’m using now, it’s the outside of the car only, and no sound, mainly as I found this to be the best balance for my pupils and myself.

As far as the driving tests go, the DSA are very clear on cameras. Under no circumstances are you allowed to record a driving test, so make sure you unplug it or remove it before you leave the car.

Finally, How Easy Are They To Use?

 Once unpacked, it would take no more than a few minutes to get it installed in the car. Simply insert the SD card, plug in the power cable and use the suction mount to fix it to the windscreen. That’s it, turn the camera on and you’re recording. You might need to play around with the position to get the best view, and the use of sticky tabs or blue-tack could be useful to keep the wires out of the way.

I hope this has helped, and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.